Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Harrison Ford

Besides being a licenced pilot, what do I have in common with the actor Harrison Ford? In addition to being fabulously attractive and well regarded, of course.

When Harrison Ford was starting out in Hollywood he landed a number of bit parts like bellhop, cowboy, and suspect number two. Naturally he played each role to the best of his ability, putting his considerable talent towards making the audience believe he was indeed a bellhop, a cowboy or a suspicious individual. He wanted bigger roles, but they were not forthcoming. One studio executive apparently told Ford that he was delivering the lines he was given, and was well-suited to portraying a bellhop or a waiter, but that he lacked star quality.

"Check out Tony Curtis in HIS first role," the exec said. "He's a grocery clerk but you KNOW he's a movie star."

"I thought the point was you were supposed to think he was a grocery clerk", countered Ford, quite reasonably.

Let's just say the conversation didn't end with Ford getting a bigger part.

I'm in a similar position. Recently a customer said to me that it was clear that many of my colleagues were just time building in this job, but that I was a professional. I said thank you. And underneath I seethed the way Harrison Ford must have when he was told he made a good bellhop. Even my boss was taken aback at the discovery that I do not intend to spend the rest of my career in this job.

I hear things like this every time I mention the possibility of my career advancement. You're suited so well to it ... You're so good at it ... You put so much effort into it ... Don't you like it? ... Your talents would be wasted as a flying bus driver.

Well yes. This is my job and I do it well. Would anyone be served if I were to do otherwise? Perhaps I should act like I'm too good for this job, put on airline captain airs, and neglect those tasks that I can ignore without penalty. Of course not. I'll do this job well until the very last day I do it.

In an airline environment, everyone will see me as an airline pilot. Because I'm a professional and that's the way it's done. Harrison Ford eventually got tired of fighting for minor roles and took on a carpentry job to pay the bills. Some days I want to quit this job and go and work for a large airline doing anything. Honestly, I look at baggage handling jobs in Iqaluit and think, "what about that one?"

Harrison Ford was working as a carpenter on the set of Star Wars when he was asked to read Han Solo's lines as a stand in. Apparently he did it better than any of the 'real' actors they were considering, and was cast. You probably know how that worked out. My Star Wars will come.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Lying Still Does Not Pay

Here's an excerpt for a job posting from AvCanada that offers evidence that it's not just Steve Vizcacha who has had to repeat the hiring process because of a dishonest job seeker.

Seeking qualified person to fill Chief Pilot position in 704 operation. Hired pilot, experience not suitable. All previously interested applicants please re-apply. New applicants welcome. Must meet Chief Pilot experience requirements as per applicable C.A.R.’s Standards. Very important.

CARs 724.07(2)(b) (scroll down to 2b) outlines the required qualifications for a part 704 chief pilot. He or she has to have an airline transport licence with a valid instrument rating, a type rating in at least one of the types operated by the company, and at least 3 years experience as pilot-in-command of a commuter aeroplane. Most of the rest of the list of qualifications are training items that will be accomplished after hiring, and the company might provide the type rating, too, for the right person.

There is another requirement that the chief pilot have never had any conviction under subsection 7.3(1) of the Aeronautics Act. With a beautifully circular logic, the very first transgression listed under subsection 7.3(1) of the Aeronautics Act is:

(a) knowingly make any false representation for the purpose of obtaining a Canadian aviation document or any privilege accorded thereby;

Therefore being caught lying to try to get any aviation job disqualifies you from ever being a chief pilot. I wonder if this was this person's problem.

Another thing the observant job-seeker should learn from this posting is how amazingly disorganized employers can be. Note that they just hired someone. I'm guessing that person was then disqualified by Transport Canada during the enstatement process, yet the company had already disposed of the stack of resumes applying for the position. They didn't even have the contact information of their original second choice candidate. Perhaps they didn't even have a second choice candidate. And no, I don't have three years experience as PIC of a 704 operation.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Disembarking Unwanted Passengers

Preflight inspection revealed the presence of a number of non-revenue passengers on board the aircraft. Wasps had entered one wing through a vent and were building a nest inside it. The weight of a paper nest and a few dozen wasps wouldn't affect the flight properties of the aircraft, but that vent would give them access to the cockpit. It might negatively impact flight safety if I were to share the cockpit with a number of disgruntled poison-injecting stinging creatures.

I'm not afraid of nor allergic to wasps, but a pilot shouldn't try to do everything herself. I believe in CRM. I called maintenance. The guys smiled tolerantly, as though I had somehow caused the wasps' presence through shear bumbling pilotude. They promised to see to the problem. True to their word, they had evicted the wasps by the time the preflight paperwork was complete. One lone straggler staggered out during the runup, and the rest of the flight was wasp-free.

The next day, I noticed a wasp-coloured object lodged deep inside the opening to the stall horn. I didn't think it would affect the function of the stall horn, so I left it, intending to tell maintenance later that there was still a dead wasp in there. I flew the airplane, then before the next flight noticed that the object had moved closer to the wing opening. I took the cap of a pen and poked it inside, hoping to dislodge the stripey corpse. It moved, and not just because I was poking it with a pen. After a bit more poking and manipulation, I turned the wasp head-side out and it crawled out through the opening in the leading edge of the wing, and flew away. Apparently it had endured at least two flights in there. Tough little critter.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Living the Dream Stereotype

It's a blazing hot day and I'm driving into the company parking lot, looking like I own the world. (Or at least the car. There's no way anyone is still making payments on a car that looks like this). The wraparound sunglasses with the mirrored lenses are on my face, to maximize the "cool" look (and to hide the fact that I'm on minimum sleep this week). There's even a leather jacket in here somewhere to complete the ensemble. (Or in case the car breaks down and I need to use it as a blanket?).

The windows are cranked down and the tunes are cranked up, announcing my arrival. And what is the soundtrack for the arrival of Aviatrix for another day of tearing strips off the sky? Why the music from the movie Top Gun soundtrack. "Take you right into the danger zone!" Life is good, really. (Even while taxiing a hot plane on hot tarmac and waiting far too long at the (double striped) hold short line for take-off clearance).

The heat thins out the air, making the airplane engines and wings act like they are at a higher altitude. It takes more runway to take off, and more time and distance to climb.

"Playing with the Boys" blares out of the speakers on the way home, and there's a beer waiting at the end of the day.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Flying Out of The Box

I asked myself, how do you get a chief pilot to read your resume, when he receives a hundred resumes a week? How do you get him to remember yours when you're one of dozens with similar qualifications? How do you get him to keep it, and to call you? How do you stay in someone's face without making them hate you. And then something occurred to me.

If you ever read comic books in the 1970s or 1980s, you might remember the ads for Hostess Twinkies. They took the form of extremely lame comic strips, and the villain was always felled in some unlikely manner, usually through the application of cream-filled dessert cakes.

That's what I need: a resume in the form of a serialized comic strip. Do you remember when you were a kid, no matter how bad the Hostess Twinkie adventures were, you couldn't help but read the things? There's the other option: convince Steve Badger that I'm sane enough to fly his airplanes, but loopy enough that Air Canada would never touch me. Of course, that leaves WestJet, who seem to like their employees a little loopy.

Not that I'd ever do anything that mad. Or did I?

Also the chief pilot of Armadillo Airlines called me yesterday, based on an ordinary, non-cartoon resume. I don't think it will pan out because my PPC is not current on his aircraft, but it's nice to be thought of. And I love his accent.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Noise Complaints

Not all members of the public appreciate the sound of an airplane engine as much as we pilots do. Some of them complain about the noise. A few make it their mission in life to stop it.

A while ago, an affronted gentleman came into our place of business and asked to speak to a manager. The manager who met him is expert at public relations, but the exchange was classic even for her talents. Mr. Public produced and unfurled a map, and, placing a finger on it, righteously declared, "My house is right here." The manager looked at his map with great interest and then, in the most cheerful, neighbourly way you could imagine, placed her own finger on the map nearby and responded "Really? My house is here!" Not quite the effect he had intended.

If you buy a house near the sea, you're going to have seagulls in your yard. If you buy a house near a mushroom farm, you're going to smell manure. If you buy a house near a dairy farm you're going to smell manure and hear a lot of mooing. And if you buy a house near an airport, you're going to hear airplanes. If you don't like it, don't buy a house there. If you already did, move.

There are restrictions on how low and how fast aircraft can fly in the vicinity of built-up areas and other structures, but those rules are prefaced by the words "except for the purpose of take off and landing" because we've got to start and end the trip at zero feet above the ground.

At another company I worked, the chief pilot's assistant created a special voice mailbox just for one complaining lady. Because of airspace and operational concerns, we flew at 3500' over her house and she'd still call in to complain about the noise. Unfortunately the chief pilot always seemed to be out when she called, and his assistant would helpfully route her call to his other voice mail. Complaining about the noise must have been like a hobby for her, something to give purpose and structure to her days, and something to talk to her friends about. Maybe she couldn't afford a poodle.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


I was recently airside (i.e. on the part of an airport with the tarmac and airplanes, as opposed to the part with the car rentals, gift shops, metal detectors and baggage carousels) at an international airport in the United States. There might be no place in the world more uptight than an American international airport. Take the attitude of homeland security, the FBI, the FAA, customs officials, and security guards and roll them all together with an eight-foot fence, then top that with four strands of barbed wire, and you get the idea. You could cut the paranoia with a knife. Which is ironic, because I needed a knife, and discovered that I'd left mine in my other handbag. How girlie of me. What are the chances of getting a hold of a sharp knife airside?

Quite good, actually. The very first person I asked, less than a hundred metres from my airplane, was able to provide me with a genuine boxcutter knife. They are extremely useful tools. The presence of the knife passed from one pilot to another and back (thank you again, sir) didn't compromise anyone's security, just amused me because of its status as one of the least welcome items on a passenger aircraft.

Clearing customs, the border guard had had the temerity to ask us if we were carrying any "knives? guns? weapons of mass destruction?" And we weren't, at that point. One of the most excruciating thing about clearing customs is having to pass up the straight lines. I could have replied to the last with, "We looked, but we couldn't find any."

Monday, May 23, 2005

Obvious Rules

Dave at Flight Level 390 reports three rules of the airway passed on to him from a senior captain. His rules reminded me of another fundamental.

Never piss off the people who handle your food, set your schedule or service your airplane.

You'd think that was obvious, but I'm sometimes appalled to see how pilots treat support staff. A little goes a long way. It's not the dispatcher's fault that she had to call a crew at four in the morning. Yell at her now and then wonder why you have so many five am starts on next month's schedule. If you need de-icing service again tomorrow, which crew will respond faster and do a better job, the one you greeted with "it's about time," or the one you brought doughnuts for? Most people in the aviation environment are very professional and wouldn't deliberately do anything to sabotage a flight, even if you left them seething with rage, but they might not lift a finger to help you out when you need it, either.

I know of a bizjet crew who routinely added a pizza for the ramp workers onto their catering bill. That's a trivial fifteen bucks, giving them priority service every time. And you never know when the eyes, ears and goodwill of the ramp crew can save you a lot more than the cost of a pizza.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Flying Firetrucks

I saw the new Star Wars movie. I got my $12 worth from one scene fairly early in the film. I'm not going to give away anything of the plot, but if you haven't seen it yet, and are one of those people who wants to go into the movie knowing nothing about it, then you should stop reading this entry.

The scene that made me realize I hadn't wasted my money starts out in outer space. Our heroes are aboard one of those big space ships that the the camera stereotypically takes half the opening credits to pan over. For reasons directly related to our heroes' presence, an emergency situation arises. They enter the atmosphere and the emergency snowballs, or perhaps more accurately, fireballs, until the craft is on final approach, blossoming with flames, and flanked by firetrucks. The firetrucks, or should I say, fireships, fly next to the burning spaceship and spray water on it while it is still in the air.

It lands and skids blazingly down a landing strip that is really quite long, considering that every other ship in the movie lands delicately and comes to rest on a single spot. Maybe it was a special emergency landing strip. I was laughing so hard and clapping, that someone else said I made that her favourite part.

Plus R2D2 kicks a surprising amount of butt.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Lying to be Hired

Steve Vizcacha phoned to ask me the same question he asked before, this time telling me first the answer he wanted to hear. I told the truth. He told me that if I had had a particular requirement he would hire me right now. He said those words. There was a simple way I could achieve that requirement. I could lie.

I know a lot of people in my position would have done it. It felt as though he expected it. It would have been only a slight exaggeration of my qualifications. I could have claimed that a certain number of flights I did in multi-engined airplanes were with me in charge of the airplane instead of someone else. No one would have checked. There would have been no difference to the flight. The other person didn't help me fly. He just owned the airplane and had the insurance in his name. But he was legally in charge of the flight. After ONE WEEK on the job my real qualifications would have exceeded the claimed ones, but I missed the cutoff for hiring. His insurance comapny would never even have known.

I know it's done all the time. People get jobs at companies with strict minima and we look at one another knowing that there is no way they meet the minima, and they're not sleeping with the boss either. There are amusing stories of people who claim they have flown a particular type, in order to get a job, and once in the airplane it becomes evident that they haven't flown it. Sometimes the company just keeps them, because they have invested the ground training and one day of flying, and don't want to start again with another candidate who may have told the same lies.

I can put up with all that. What really gets me down is that employers probably assume I am lying too, so the time I have really accumulated is being discounted. I have never given anyone a resumé that listed even a part of an hour more than I have actually logged. I tell the truth and I round down to the nearest hour. It's a very sad industry that makes me wonder if this is a career-damaging error.

There's a triumphant postscript to this story. I e-mailed Steve to thank him for considering me, and I used the words "I could have lied to you, but a pilot who lies about time might lie about doing the job properly, too. At least that's how I'm consoling myself." He e-mailed back to say that the pilot he hired DID lie, and that the client checked his logbooks and caught the lie. Seldom does one receive such swift divine reassurance. The path of truth leads me where I want to go.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Setting Priorities

Yesterday I was given a message that there were "two employment-related messages on the answering machine." No further details. I had the rest of the day to wonder who they were from, decide who I hoped they were from, and be generally excited and happy about my prospects. It's like holding a scratch and win ticket that's not yet scratched, or a Tim Horton's coffee cup with the rim still waiting to be unrolled. Pragmatically, I realize that it will most likely say "Sorry, Play Again" but until I do, it's Schrödinger's cat, with all manner of possibilities contained in its quantum waveform.

When I have to make a go/no-go decision for a flight, I first decide on the acceptable limits of visibility, ceiling, freezing level, and other conditions, and then I check the weather forecasts. That helps me turn what could otherwise be a tough decision into a mathematical true-false question. So while wildly speculating on what two companies were vying over my attention, I realized that I should know the ranked order of all the companies I wanted to work for. I don't yet. I can divide them into two tiers, one of which I may skip over if recent predictions are correct. But do I want to skip over part of the aviation experience? I'd like to fly a large jet, but I'd like to have had more experience than I already have at flying small turboprops. More things happen on such jobs: more emergencies, and things that could have been emergencies, so you learn things. Experience isn't measured purely in hours. I'd like to sit next to a captain who has a lot of experience, and I want my future first officers to do the same.

But even within one tier I don't know whether I'd prefer Aardvark, Badger or Ichneumon. They are all great companies and I'd be thrilled to bits to work for any of them. But what if I came home and the answering machine revealed that they all wanted to hire me? After I regained consciousness, I'd have a serious decision to make. There are different things I would get out of each job. Perhaps it would be better to work a season with Air Vizcacha and then get on with Ichneumon Flight Services. I could spend the next twenty-five years flying for Aardvark and feel myself a complete success. I still haven't decided.

But you probably want to know about the answering machine messages. One was from Frank Ferret, returning my call, and confirming that he had passed my resumé on to Steve Ferret. Another was from Steve at Yapok Airlines, who sounded genuinely confused as to why Mike from Opposum Airlines had told him to call me. Neither looks much like an immediate job opportunity, but if you keep trying, eventually you will win a free doughnut.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Q: What's brown and sticky?
A: A stick.

That one has made me laugh since grade two. Apparently it was the most submitted joke to a "funniest joke on the internet" competition, but no one on the committee voted it to win. I guess there were no grade two kids on the committee.

Airplanes have three axes of control: pitch, tipping nose up and nose down, like the movement a rocking chair makes; roll, tipping from side to side like a cyclist leaning into a corner; and yaw, pivoting from side to side, like you can on a piano stool. There are two different types of cockpit controls to manage the movement.

The most common type is the yoke, a steering-wheel like arrangement which produces roll when turned to the side like a steering wheel and pitch when pulled or pushed away from or towards the dashboard. Some airplanes have a control stick instead of a yoke. The stick ranges in appearance from ski pole to video game joystick, but in each case you pull it straight back and forth along the nose-tail line of the airplane to control pitch and waggle it back and forth perpendicular to that line to control roll. If you pull and turn the yoke or move the stick diagonally, you control two axes of movement at once, even if you didn't intend to. Yaw is almost always controlled by pedals on the floor.

The airplanes I trained in had control yokes, and so have all the ones I have flown for work. There are two types of airplanes that have sticks: small, old fashioned recreational airplanes and the most modern airliners. So some airline pilots learned with a stick, progressed to airplanes with yokes and then back to sticks. The cited reasons for the airliner sidestick include freeing up space in the cockpit, and ease of computer control (it truly is a computer joystick), but I wonder how much influence the fact that todays senior airline pilots mostly learned to fly in the J3 Piper Cub had on the argument for the stick.

I have flown a few different airplanes equipped with control sticks (even a modern airliner in a full motion simulator). My first time was in an old cloth-covered airplane with neither differential ailerons nor a turn coordinator. After a few minutes of battling it, I commented that I was overcontrolling because it was difficult to tell when the stick was centred. My instructor replied, "If you were a guy you'd know when the stick was in the middle." I'm not sure whether that was supposed to refer to the presence of a stick-sensitive area of the male anatomy, or a reference to tha amount of time lonely male pilots spend manipulating that centrally located anatomical part. In any event, I wasn't overwhelmed by penis envy, and soon I managed to keep the wings level, stick or none.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

But Which to Choose?

I received e-mail from the hiring departments of both WestJet and Air Canada this week. And I am not joking, nor talking about frequent flyer spam, phishing expeditions, or bounced e-mail. Nevertheless, and probably fairly predictably at this stage of the game, they were not interview calls either.

The Air Canada missive was a form letter, the one they send you if you mail in your paper resume. It encourages you to register with their online application database and states quite sternly that "Applications are only being accepted electronically. Telephone enquiries or referrals will not be accepted." I haven't sent them a paper resume lately, as I've long been registered in their electronic database, and make my updates there. I can only assume that this one has fluttered down to me as a result of someone I know at Air Canada shaking the tree on my behalf. It's always fun to have the quarry stalk me*, for whatever reason.

Meanwhile, how many of you would have read a message with a common personal name you did not recognize as a sender and no subject? That's a classic hallmark of spam. Add to that the fact that the body of the message consisted of a short amount of text and a long URL, and any spam filter worth running will throw it in the Junk folder, as did mine. But it turned out to be from WestJet. The only reason I saw it, is that I previewed my messages from work, using an internet mail program that doesn't filter spam, and it was in the mailbox right after a message from someone I knew. After I had read and deleted the known message, the next, subjectless message automatically displayed.

The name belonged to someone whom I don't know who toils deep in the WestJet "People" department (that's what they call it). I guess it'a a good thing her name isn't Watermelon Q. Minnow, or even fewer people would have read it. It was a note "requestiong" (that's the spelling in the e-mail) that I resubmit some data to the WestJet database, "due to a technical upgrade." It's virtually identical to one of those e-mails that asks you to follow a dubious link in order to "reconfirm" all your banking information so they can steal your money. Except all Ms. Minnow wanted to know was whether I could work in Canada, hold a secure area pass, and to reconfirm my flight time totals, none of which is confidential. It didn't even ask my name. My application number was coded in the link.

So now I have a simple route into WestJet. Presumably WestJet has sent this out because their database has collapsed, and they have lost track of who is qualified to fly. So that reduces the total WestJet hiring pool from everyone who applied over the last six months, down to only those who click the link on that e-mail. But ninety percent of the people who received that e-mail won't even have read it, because it looks so much like spam. Only uninteresting people read their spam on purpose, so even if they have more flight time than me, the interview process will reveal them personally deficient, and I will be the only choice.

*Sorry about the sudden change in metaphor from vegetable to animal. If you find it dizzying, I'll refund your blog subscription fees in full. If you can think of a way I could have made a further transmutation to mineral without entirely losing the thread of the conversation, please mention it in the comments.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Aviatrices and Other Powerful Women

My mammals are up to date. Kolinsky Air doesn't warrant a call at this time, I'm waiting on some information before calling Quoll Air, and Shrew Air appears to be having financial difficulties that suggest they will be shedding not hiring pilots this year. I've also been talking to a few other companies, that remain unnamed because I haven't had anything to say about them. My duties fulfilled, I'm now allowed to blog.

I've always liked the word aviatrix. It's a specifically female form of the word aviator that doesn't appear to diminish the main meaning as the feminizing endings -ess or -ette seem to on some words. It even has an interesting plural form, aviatrices. Too bad for men, who only get to be aviators, and women can be aviators too.

Although Aviatrix is my handle here, I don't have a monopoly on the word, of course. The address aviatrix.blogspot.com wss taken when I signed up, sadly by someone who blogged once and abandoned the project, without so much as leaving an e-mail address so I could ask her nicely to surrender the URL. None of the Aviatrices in online forums (or fora if you prefer: I like latinate plurals, but I prefer the commonest form for intelligibility) is me. I've twice had people e-mail me to say they know who I am, either because they know someone else who goes by Aviatrix, or because they know a woman who flies and who has computer skills and thinks we're so rare they have it in one guess. Neither guess was right. It doesn't take much beyond finding the ON button to blog, and you can blog without even owning your own computer.

Aviatrix is a nice-sounding word, and it has interesting company. I know of six English words ending in -ix and denoting females. Five relate to sex, power, death or combinations thereof. The sixth is aviatrix. Does that mean flying is sex, power, and death all rolled into one?

As for the five other words, you probably thought of dominatrix, a well-known figure combining sex and power. Surrounding death we have the inheritrix, thanks to the powers of the executrix. Apparently a female director may be called a directrix, but I've never heard that one used.

The fifth is as good a word as firetruck; it starts with the same letter and is even naughtier, as it denotes a participant in an act that remains illegal in several US states. Last time I told it to someone she didn't quite believe it was a word, until she looked it up and declared it her new favourite word. I suspect this word may be the reason prostitutes are said to turn "tricks." The word is fellatrix. It's certainly classier than any of its synonyms.

And no, my real name isn't Beatrix.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Valid Medical

In order to fly an airplane, a person is required to hold not only a pilot licence that matches the airplane and flight operation being conducted, but a valid medical certificate. In Canada the licence is currently a bluish bit of high quality paper, embossed and indented with lines so pilots can easily fold it to fit in our wallets. The medical is a similar document printed on grey-beige paper. In the past, the medical was known as a licence validation certificate, a very accurate term, because without it, a pilot licence is not valid. At regular intervals, depending on age, pilots must visit a specially qualified doctor, a Certified Aviation Medical Examiner or CAME to undergo an examination that renews the medical. If a pilot has any any temporary incapacity--e.g. the flu or a broken ankle--she should not fly. She might consult a CAME if there is any doubt.

A pilot I know is approved for a Category 1 (commercial) medical even though he takes medication to control his blood pressure. One morning while driving his car to the airport, he momentarily greyed out and lost control of the car. He went off the road, driving up over the curb and onto a suburban lawn. He succeeded in stopping the car without hitting the gentleman who was on that lawn, watering flowers.

The gardener was a doctor. But not just a doctor, the gardener was a CAME. But not just any CAME. My acquaintance had blundered woozily onto the lawn of the head of civil aviation medicine for the entire region, one fifth of the country.

The pilot had had a recent change in his blood pressure medication and his doctor had neglected to give him an associated restriction on flying and driving. Didn't his doctor know he was a pilot? But of course. In fact, his personal doctor happens to be the head of civil aviation medicine for the region. That's whose lawn he was on.

He's back flying now, and he gave me permission to tell this story.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Are Too Satellites

Well, I wrote a long article in response to yesterday's anonymous comment claiming that there were no extra GPS satellites involved in the SBAS system. It linked to plans, pictures and launch timetables for SBAS GEO satellites in Europe, India and Austraila. It quoted from the AIP, the FAA and the ESA. And it concluded triumphantly with a picture of a GEO satellite. It completely soothed the initial sense of guilt I felt when it was implied that I had given out incorrect information. And then Blogger ate it, saying on its status page, "We will also be down for about 10 minutes right now to reboot some servers."

Here are a couple of links salvaged out of my history. EGNOS, the European effort and an AvWeb article showing the network of stations.

I'm not rewriting it, and I'm ticked at Blogger now, for wasting my time so I'm not posting anything more until all my mammals are up to date.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


As I noted a couple of days ago, the entire A.I.P. section on GPS approaches with vertical guidance has been rewritten. Both the the technology that takes advantage of GPS and the GPS system itself keep improving. Cutting a few minutes off a flight by coming at a runway more directly saves more money than denying everyone headsets or in-flight meals, so companies are very interested in taking as much advantage of these technolgies as possible.

The theory is, that while GPS can tell you how high up you are, it doesn't do it with the accuracy and fail-safeness of traditional instrument landing systems, so GPS can't be called a precision approach. The non-precision method of approaching a runway you can't see involves timing how long it's been since you passed a particular point and deciding when you've gone too far based on airspeed and reported windspeed. That's still allowed, and is at many airports the only option. It has to be admitted that vertical guidance from GPS is a bit more accurate than that, so ought to be allowed.

There are two ways of determining altitude from GPS. One is called the wide area augmentation system (WAAS) and works because the Americans have installed extra GPS satellites called SBAS that monitor the other satellites to bully and interrupt them if they don't think they are doing a good job. The term SBAS is said to stand for Satellite-Based Augmentation System, not actually to sound like "Yes, Boss." The WAAS system is optimized for the USA, but they can't help it from splashing out over the border into Canada, so we could use it too. New reference stations are even being added in Canada, possibly to facilitate US invasion, but apparently WAAS will be approved for vertical guidance in Canada sometime later this year.

Meanwhile, BARO VNAV, i.e. barometric vertical navigation, based on computers examining changes in air pressure with altitude, has been in use in Canada for about twenty years. The Americans may make many of our computers, but they have no control over our barometric pressure. BARO VNAV has never been considered reliable enough for precision approaches, but combined with GPS, and taking into account the temperature at the airport, properly equipped aircraft can now descend on a calculated glideslope where an RNAV GPS approach is published.

The computer involved is called an FMS. Some FMS are capable of accepting temperature data for the aerodrome and others aren't. This matters because the colder the air is, the closer the air molecules are together, hence the closer you are to the ground if you're using barometric pressure for altitude information. If your FMS cannot accept temperature information then you must not conduct a BARO VNAV approach if the temperature is below the limiting temperature Tlim published on the approach plate. There's even a little chart in the A.I.P. showing how your safe three percent glideslope could diminish to a tree, rock, and caribou-whacking two and a half percent, when the temperature is minus thirty-one.

Also, you can't play Minesweeper on an FMS.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Australia Metroliner Crash

I noticed this report of a fatal Metro crash in Australia a few days ago. What caught my attention was that it was Australia's worst civil air accident since nineteen sixty-eight. That means there are grandmothers in Australia who can't remember a more serious accident. I want to compare that to Canada.

Fifteen fatalities would have to involve airline or commuter operations. Transportation Safety Board data on crashes of Canadian-registered aircraft shows zero passengers killed on Canadian registered airliners since the beginning of 1994, and zero passengers killed on commuter aircraft since the beginning of 1999. So we've been operating safely. But going back to 1968, how many have there been?

The TSB has some numbers but they are summary statistics and I really need a list of accidents in order to count those of that severity or over. The best I can find is at emergency-management.net. Here are the Canadian air accidents listed there with fifteen or more fatalities. I'm not counting the Swissair crash because that was a foreign carrier departing from a foreign airport that happened to be diverting towards a Canadian airport at the time of the accident.

  • 1970 July 5th. Canada, Toronto: Air Canada DC-8 crashes, 108 people died. The FO inadvertantly deployed the spoilers while trying to arm them on final, the aircraft struck the ground hard, then exploded on the subsequent go around.
  • 1983 June 2nd. USA, Ohio, Cincinnati Air Canada DC-9, emergency landing due to fire in the restroom, 23 people died.
  • 1989 March 10th. Canada, Dryden, Air Ontario Fokker 28, crashed after takeoff due to ice on the wings, 24 people died, 45 survived.

I don't think this list means that Canada has poorer aviation safety than Australia. I think it reflects that we have more aviation, more mid-sized airplanes being operated, and although only one of these was weather-related, worse weather. I do think it speaks well of Australian aviation that this is the worst air accident that country has seen in almost forty years.

No one knows yet what caused the Metro accident. The vague speculations in this article are a reminder for pilots and operators of how ignorant and terrified passengers may be. "Some locals say they had held fears about the Metroliner's safety before the crash - that it had previously failed to start and left them stranded." I cringe if it takes me more than one try to start an engine because I know passengers will equate it to unreliability of the engine.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A.I.P. Updates

I'm updating my A.I.P. with the pages they mailed me, only a few weeks late. (That ambiguous sentence allows me to imply that Transport Canada sent me the pages late, and not that they have been sitting in a pile of bank statements and pizza coupons for the last month. You decide which is true). There will only be a couple more updates until the little white ring binder of advice to pilots is retired forever, replaced by the new A.I.M., so I'd better get it right.

What sky-shattering changes have occured in the last few weeks to endanger the tardy-updating pilot? Lets see. They have removed a diagram showing the hold short line markings for non-instrument runways. There used to be a single solid line and a single dashed line for a non-instrument runway and a double solid with a double dashed for an instrument runway. The replacement page shows only the double line case. I haven't noticed any line repainting going on, but I can't honestly say whether there are single or double lines on any given runway. Now I'll have to look at all the hold short lines I cross, to verify. My hypothesis for the reason for this change is that the introduction of GPS means that there may be instrument approaches developed for almost any runway sophisticated to have paint on it, so the instrument versus non-instrument distinction goes away.

Speaking of GPS, the entire section on GPS approaches with vertical guidance has been rewritten to incorporate a distinction between those based on WAAS and those based on BARO VNAV. Sounds impressive, doesn't it? It is, sort of. I'll explain it another day.

One-letter morse code identifiers for NDBs have all been replaced with two or three letter identifiers. I knew that. The section on ILS was edited, giving me opportunity to refresh my knowledge that the ILS should provide reliable coverage 35 degrees each side of centreline for 10 nm from the transmitter and then ten degrees each side of centreline for the next 8 nm, and that the normal width of the localizer is five degrees. I had forgotten that it could vary between three and six degrees in width. That means that some ILSes are more sensitive than others for the same distance from the transmitter. There's some stuff on LORAN-C in there, too, but I've never used LORAN-C in my life.

Sept-Îles has been removed from the list of airports where ATC is available in both English and French. I suspect this reflects the closure of the tower as opposed to a sudden refusal to speak French, because they are still willing to relay IFR messages and provide advisory services in French.

"Flares dispensed in immediate vicinity" is now a method of indicating interception of an aircraft. It's no longer terrifying enough to have a military jet scream up in front of you and rock its wings, but now it might shoot flares at you. There's actually a circular on it, in addition to the dry change to the interception procedures list.

NORAD interceptors may dispense flares in your vicinity as an attempt to communicate the following:
1. Pay attention;
2. Contact air traffic control immediately;
3. Follow the interceptors' visual ICAO signals;
4. Non-compliance may result in the use of force.
There's even two pictures of flares being dispensed. Okay, I'll keep that in mind. I can't really imagine someone deriving any meaning from the very nearby presence of a military jet spewing flares besides pay attention and do what I say, or you're going to die.

Lots of changes are like those puzzles they have in the kids' pages of newspapers. Can you spot the difference? Typos corrected, commas inserted, shall changed to should, and telephone numbers updated. The supplements include airspace restrictions for a royal visit. Ooh, that's next week. I'm not allowed to loiter while they are here, else someone might dispense flares in my immediate vicinity.

And that's it. I'll report back about the hold short lines.

Monday, May 09, 2005

From Mammal to Mammoth

I got in touch with my Air Canada mentor. (I could mammalize Air Canada, but it is just too mammoth, and mammoths don't burrow. It was once government-run and has never escaped from its bureaucratic underpinnings). He agreed with Steve Badger's assessment of my probable tenure at a small airline.

"Over the next couple of years," he told me, "Air Canada is going to hire six hundred pilots."

"How am I going to get operational IFR experience?" I asked, trying to keep the desperation out of my voice.

"You'll get that on line," he said.

When he says "on line," he's not talking about a network of flight simulators on the internet. He means while actually flying a large Boeing full of passengers for Air Canada.

"Are you saying I could go from small piston airplanes to glass cockpit jets in one step?"

That's what he's saying. Current senior pilots came out of the bush with no IFR time and learned to fly jets in the 1970s. And no one can pretend that those new airplanes Boeing has on order are not easier to fly than DC-9s. He's serious. He doesn't think I should stress over the mammals, that I'll be hired straight out of where I am.

Sometime in the near future, you may be a passenger on a brand new airplane that is made of plastic and is flown by pilots who just learned to fly it (because it's brand new, and everyone just learned to fly it). The captain will be pushing sixty, and looking forward to retirement next week, while beside him is a first officer whose previous flying experience mainly involves airplanes that would fit in the baggage compartment. Enjoy your flight!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Stuck in Traffic

I didn't tell all of yesterday's story. Steve Badger did explain why he would reject a pilot with my time. It's not pure capriciousness. It's not that he figures I'm calcified with bad habits. It's not personal in any way. He doesn't even hate me. Anonymous guessed it in his comments.

It costs a company a significant amount of time and money to train and qualify a pilot, and Steve wants people who will stay more than a year. He told me that given my current total time, after a year with Badger I would be hired away by Air Canada or WestJet. I gaped at him in bafflement.

"With no significant multi command time?"

"They don't care."

"They'd put a pilot on a Boeing before she had commanded anything heavier than a Ford Explorer?"

"They don't care. They train people."

I picked up my logbook that night to fill in the day's flights, and realized that all the fun had been sucked out of that task. I haven't made an entry in it since. How did time become my enemy?

When I started, I had a plan. I was going to get my licences, get an entry level job, work my way up to a multi-engine IFR job on a two crew airplane, and then work there for four or five years until I had some decent command time. I thought that all the years I've been stuck in entry-level jobs were like being stuck in downtown traffic trying to get onto the freeway. Perhaps I've not been stuck stationary in traffic, but have been driving along a farm road that, although slower moving, parallels the freeway, so that when I do get onto the freeway I will be that much further ahead. Steve Badger thinks so.

I'm afraid that all the freeway entrance ramps are behind me. And I don't think this farm road gets all the way to where I want to go. Maybe there's another entrance ramp up ahead. Or maybe there will be a spot where no ditch or trees separates the farm road from the freeway, and I can just cut over across the shoulder and accelerate to highway speed. I can't see how I'm going to get an airline interview, get through an airline interview and a simulator check without more multi time and commercial IFR experience than I have.

I'm waiting for one of my mentors to get back from a trip so I can ask his advice on refolding my road map.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Looking for a New Haystack

The course wrapped up today, complete with a graduation certificate that has my name spelled right in fancy calligraphy. Was it a productive week? Hmm.

Have you heard the old joke:

Unluckily a man fell out of an airplane.
Luckily, he had a parachute.
Unluckily, the parachute did not open.
Luckily, there was a haystack below him.
Unluckily, there was a pitchfork in the haystack.
Luckily, he missed the pitchfork.
Unluckily, he missed the haystack.

Unfortunately, the course itself was not extremely useful to me. I was seeking new applicable information and what I got fuzzy warm affirmations of what I already knew. Fortunately, most of the participants were senior people from an airline where I want to work. Unfortunately, at lunch on the last day, the chief pilot mentioned that he would not hire me, as I have too much flight time.

Yes, you read that right. Too much flight time. I have been working my tail off all through the recession, as many as three jobs at once, and now I discover that someone who was unemployed for much of that time, or a pilot I personally trained, has an infinitely better chance of being hired by Badger than I do. I no longer qualify for the job I really wanted. Had I been working at McDonald's for the last two years, but kept my ratings current, I would be perfectly positioned for Badger.

I understand his thinking, and it in all likelihood lines up with the thinking of many of the companies on my shortlist. I wouldn't be the first person to be overqualified for what she wants to do. I remember reading about a man with a PhD who was rejected as "overqualified" until he moved the PhD from "Education" to "Hobbies" on his resume.

I have one more flight to do before I can go home and cry. I mean "go home and plan a new career strategy."

Friday, May 06, 2005

Recorded Food Cravings

Comediens Tim Gadzinski and Charlie Recksieck read a few cockpit voice recorder transcripts and then wrote this parody. It's a little juvenile (be warned) but I've heard something resembling most individual parts on real flight decks. I identify strongly with the food cravings.

I used to have an aerial work job where I usually flew with one particular crew member. He was a licenced wrestling announcer. No, we weren't doing aerial WWF commentary: I just find it amusing that you need a real licence to be an announcer for fake wrestling. Apparently it can be dangerous, so the licencing requirement ensures that people doing the job have had some minimal training on I suppose staying out of the way, ducking, and the hazards of getting splattered by other people's blood. That's relevant to nothing, just characterization. This crew member was also extraordinarily, frighteningly fond of a particular television show. More characterization. He was a good guy to fly with.

So it would be seven in the morning and one of us would mention guacamole, or lemon merangue pie, or pyrogies with bacon, or something, and then the other would agree that that was a very fine food. And we'd fixate on it for the whole flight. We'd land at some inappropriate hour of a Saturday morning with a craving for quesadillas or curly fries. I remember once going through a telephone book after landing, trying to find a sushi restaurant that was open at nine am.

That operation didn't require and didn't have a CVR, and even if it had, the tapes of an uneventful flight are quickly overwritten on subsequent flights. In the event of an accident, publically released transcripts only include dialogue relevant to the occurance, so any pre-incident guacamole cravings go unreported.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Aviation Workday

The course I am taking is not aviation-specific; it's an instructional methods course. It is normally taught to new faculty at the local vocational college, but for some reason it has been offered to the aviation community this year. And we are baffling our instructors.

The first day, everyone registered was present, seated and ready to start at least fifteen minutes before the scheduled start time of the class. Our instructors said they'd never seen anything like it. After a trivial duration of lessons, they gave us a twenty minute break and then told us we'd have an hour lunch break by noon. At that point we asked. "Could we have a half hour lunch break, and then take half an hour off the end of the day?" They countered with an offer of forty-five minutes for lunch, which we accepted.

The second day we were still all ready to start, and they once again praised us so much that I'm wondering if I should be late tomorrow. Then, having overheard our conversations, an instructor asked if some of us had had to go to work after the class. Well yes. Most of us did. And a good number had been already working that morning. They gibbered in amazment that anyone would start work at six and then go back to work when the class ended in the afternoon. Now it becomes clear to me why the roads are busier at four in the afternoon than at six or seven. Normal people really do consider three-thirty or four a reasonable hour to knock off work for the day. In aviation, if someone says the staff meeting is at seven-thirty, you ask, "a.m. or p.m.?"

Before we broke into two groups for the presentations, they explained the time limits for set-up, presentation and debrief. We did the math and determined that our group should complete the tasks in five hours. They refused our request to skip or further shorten lunch, so we were done in a little under five hours, plus the lunch break. The other group was done even faster. The facilitators had no plan for a group that kept to the schedule, and just let us all go back to our jobs early. Except they called it "going home."

And now I'm back from work and it's time to do my homework.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Volleyball Team

For the rest of this week, I will be attending a training course. It takes place at another airport, so this morning I drove over there, instead of to my regular airport. When I entered the classroom, the instructor indicated a stack of placecards with the names of the participants on them and asked me to find mine before taking a seat. I picked up the cards and leafed through them, seeing a few names I didn't recognize, a couple of my own colleagues, then "Steven Badger." His isn't a common name. And the next name was Bill Badger. Then Fiona Badger. And then they started arriving. Yes, I'm going to spend the next four days shut in a small room with most of the Badger Airlines management team, and some of their training pilots. This is the pilot-looking-for-a-job equivalent of a teenager getting assigned a highschool locker next to that of the totally hot captain of the senior volleyball team.

The course began with the usual getting-to-know-each-other exercises, so I now know the hobbies, pet peeves and life ambitions of these people. I felt like I was stalking them. During a discussion period in the morning, Steve commented on the poor background knowledge of some of the new-hire pilots at Badger. So the metaphorical teenager is now privy to the entire volleyball team discussing shortcomings in their sex lives. Tomorrow I am assigned to make a presentation in front of the group.

By the end of the week, Steve Badger will assuredly remember me. Yet it appears he already knew who I was. At lunch I suggested that he solve his ignorant pilot problem the way Air Canada does: by preceding hiring interviews with a written threshold knowledge test. Then he need only interview those candidates who demonstrate the required level of knowledge. He felt that such a screen would interfere with his ability to hire for personalities that fit into Badger. Perhaps he doesn't realize just how many pilots there are who would kill, or at least study mightily, to get into the company, and that scraping the lazy and ignorant off the bottom would affect his results positively. But he's the one running the airline. He said he has a good idea to begin with who is capable and who isn't, anyway, and then used my specific background as an example of someone who would clearly have no problem. I'd say I was astonished, but I'm not. Remember, two months ago I was astonished that I wasn't called for an interview. The truth is somewhere in between: my resume must have hung about in the pile of maybes long enough that he remembers my credentials. So I guess I did nearly get an interview. Now I have three days to demonstrate that I get along with his pilots. Oh yeah, and learn whatever it is that the course is about.

And I turned the radio on for maybe five minutes on the drive back and guess which song started playing? God does not lack a sense of humour.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Charlie Victor Romeo

I looked at my referrer logs and discovered that people are finding this blog searching for it by name, "Cockpit Conversation." I wondered if they remembered the name, but not the non-matching URL, or whether they were looking for something else. Googling revealed that the first few hits on Cockpit Conversation, are this weblog, or people reviewing it, but subsequent hits refer to transcripts from the cockpit voice recorder or CVR, one of the "black boxes" required to be on board certain airplanes, according to one of the most fiendishly complicated sections of the Canadian Air Regulations. In summary, you have to have an operating CVR in order to take off in a multi-engine turboprop with two pilots, in an airplane authorized to carry more than 30 passengers, in an airplane with between 20 and 30 seats authorized to carry fewer than 30 passengers, or an airplane with ten or more seats, if the airplane was manufactured after October 11th 1991. Oh, and if you're carrying cargo, without any passengers or seats, but are operating under part 705 of the regulations you need a CVR, too. Yes, that's the summary.

You would think that having every word you said in the cockpit recorded would make you self conscious and stifle cockpit conversation, but you quickly come to ignore it. If you want to say really really bad things about your management, some CVRs have a button you can press, which supposedly runs some sort of self-test function, and also apparently disables recording for a few seconds, in a way less obvious than simply switching off the CVR for a moment. I'd think you could wait until you got to the hotel, or at least the shuttle, to bitch about management. They don't bug pilots' hotel rooms, as far as I know.

Along with the airline distaster sites and conspiracy theories, Google returned a Broadway play called Charlie Victor Romeo and consisting entirely of actors reciting CVR transcripts. They do make fascinating reading, but I hadn't realized that they might be of general enough interest to draw a non-aviation theatre crowd. I once had pilots read different roles from a CVR transcript as part of a training exercise I was co-ordinating. I remember someone who hadn't heard me say that the scripts I haded out were actual transcripts commented, "Don't quit your day job to write for Hollywood."

Monday, May 02, 2005

How Many Control Towers In Canada?

Aerodromes in Canada may or may not have a control tower, whose occupants issue clearances and instructions to improve the safety and efficiency of movement in the vicinity of the airport. The controllers are also usually good for a cup of coffee if you're stuck at an airport with no open restaurants.

Think for a moment about the size of the CFS. It's about four centimetres thick, filled with lightweight newsprint pages, often two or three aerodromes to a page. That's a lot of aerodromes. How many do you think have control towers?

The answer is in this link.

I have to admit that I thought there were many more. I guess if I'd then tried to list them, I would have concluded that there weren't that many, but I hadn't realized the true size of the ratio of uncontrolled to controlled facilities in Canada. It goes to show how freely air traffic moves here. Aerodromes without control towers, are called "uncontrolled," but movements there are controlled by rules and procedures dictating how pilots approach and leave the airport, select a runway, and communicate with one another. Pilots coordinate their movements over the radio, and don't swear at each other nearly as much as car drivers would, equipped with the same technology. Americans have taken to calling such airports "non-towered" to emphasize the fact that they are not uncontrolled free-for-alls. There are a number of airports in Canada that have control towers but are uncontrolled, because the control tower has been closed.

And the airplanes in the sample conversations with air traffic services on that site are real airplanes, and I've flown one of them.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

How Big is An Airliner?

In answer to my own question, Transport Canada recognizes three levels of passenger air transportation: air taxi, commuter, and airline.

An operation is commuter if the airplane has more than one engine, weighs no more than 19,000 lbs and has between 10 and 19 passenger seats, or if has any number of turbine engines, up to 19 passengers seats, and weighs no more than 50,000 lbs before you put any fuel in, or if Transport Canada has authorized it to be commuter. Smaller than that, an operation is air taxi and bigger than that it's airline.

I think passengers stop shrieking in horror about how small the airplane is at around 100 seats, B737-sized, but I do remember hearing someone who had only ever flown transatlantic express surprise at how small WestJet airplanes (B737) are. And I remember a student pilot gasping in astonishment at the shear size of a a Dash-8. It's all what you're used to.