Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dating Game

I sleep until nine, drink some water and then sleep again until eleven. Before you get too jealous, sitting there checking your morning e-mail already dressed and at work at eight a.m., let me remind you that it's my job to sleep as much as I can here. Sometime between one p.m. and nine p.m. the customer may call me to fly and I will have to be alert, safe and enthusiastic for the next eight hours.

I turn on my phone and check my messages. My coworker took off at 9:40, so I probably won't be needed until after three. I make a list of all the things I have to and want to do, with "blog" deliberately placed at the very bottom of the page.

  • eat
  • OFPs [operational flight plans]
  • duty times
  • send completed duty time spreadsheet to chief pilot
  • expenses
  • paysheet
  • groceries
  • rearrange stuff
  • blog

Food: Boston Pizza again. It's in the parking lot. I forgot to bring a sudoku or crossword puzzle or something, but one o'clock isn't a busy time and the service is quick. Food is meh. It's going to be a long month if I'm tired of the Boston Pizza menu already, because for walking distance there isn't a lot else. At least there's something here. Sometimes we have to get rides to get food at all. It's awkward having to feel like you're asking for a favour from the customer in order to fulfill your basic physiological needs.

Operational flight plans: I make sure all the fields are filled in properly for the flights I already did. If Transport Canada audits the company and I have filled in the departure time and ETA but not my predicted groundspeed then someone probably gets fined. Make sure the departure and arrival airports are legible and that I got the date right. I'm never quite sure what date to put on a form if I took off at 7 pm and landed at 11:30 pm on the 3rd, because considering that I'm in Alberta, that's 01Z to 0530Z on the 4th. Especially if the next day I fly from two to five pm, making that 20Z to 23Z, also on the 4th. So do I have two OFPs both dated the fourth? Or do I put it all on one OFP and then switch to a second one dated on the fifth if I do another flight at 8 pm on what in local time would still be the fourth?

I have to claim that the first flight was on the 3rd when I do my electronic duty times sheet, because if I put both flights on the line for the fourth, the software interprets it as an illegal duty day. Oddly it doesn't complain about what would be an illegally short rest period between days had I really started at 01 on the 3rd. I can even tell it I reported for duty on the fourth an hour before I went off duty on the 2nd. It looks like keeping track of resetting my duty is my own responsibility. As it always has been. The spreadsheet just lines it up in neat columns so I can e-mail it to my chief pilot who can import it into a bigger spreadsheet and show it to Transport Canada if they ask.

I tend to put the local engine start date at the beginning of the journey log entry, even if the uptime, the first time that actually gets recorded in this particular journey log, is after midnight zulu, or even after midnight local. That's probably wrong, but I find it very weird to go to bed, sleep for eight hours, including some that are dark outside and then write the same date in the journey log for the next flight. There's probably a rule somewhere, but not in the CARs. Transport Canada doesn't seem to mind if the times are local or zulu, as long as they are tracked accurately. When I fly an airplane that has local times in the journey log and I cross a time zone boundary, I record the landing time before changing my watch. I could also record it in the new local time and put an asterisk next to it, then explain the discrepancy with something like "Flight was 4.2h. T/O in EST, landing in AST."

Now that I think about it while not being in the middle of the night, the most correct solution is probably to start a new OFP for each duty day and write on it the range of zulu dates that it covers. The same solution may have to do for the journey log too. I could just put the date the flight starts, which is definitely and legally the moment I start the engines, but for the case when midnight zulu occurs between engine start and takeoff that is ambiguous, because when takeoff is 00:13, only I know whether I started the engines at 2359Z or 0001Z. All this matters little more to the operation than the colour of the sunset, but you are subscribed to Aviatrix's stream of consciousness (Aviatrix extreme of consciousness?) so there it is.

I am just finishing up my paysheet when my coworker texts to say that she has landed. I call the customer to ask if what the plan is. He says I'll be needed in a little over anhour, so I run across the highway to get some groceries. On the way back I stop to take a picture of a trailer full of freezers advertising "N.L. COD." Enterprising individual catering to the homesick Newfoundlanders in the oilfields. Just then my telephone rings. I check my watch. It hasn't been an hour. I hurry towards the hotel while answering, but it's the customer calling to say that I won't be flying today after all. That's very considerate of him. Often I just wait around for hours not knowing if I'll be called to fly or not.

I skip "rearrange stuff" on my list, because I'm not really sure anymore what I wanted rearranged, and I blog. Now I'm done blogging so I guess I'll make a list for tomorrow and go for a workout.

Another glamorous day in the life of a commercial pilot.


A Squared said...

Operational flight plans: I make sure all the fields are filled in properly for the flights I already did. If Transport Canada audits the company and I have filled in the departure time and ETA but not my predicted groundspeed then someone probably gets fined.

YGBSM!!!! You seriously have to keep records on this kind of minutia?

I am perpetually amazed at just how intrusive the CAA is into an operation where there is no common carriage involved. Having done similar work, I can tell you that nothing of the sort is required by the FAA. We kept records of flight time for our own internal purposes, but we wern't required to and we didn't have the FAA snooping through them. We certainly did not report our "predicted groundspeed" (seriously, now, that isn't a joke?????) to the FAA, as quite frankly, it was none of the FAA's firetrucking business when we took off, when we landed, where we went, or how fast we thought we'd get there.

Sounds like your CAA is as out of control and unreasonably power-hungry as our TSA.

Sir Lukenwolf said...

I can only second a square's amazement. That sort of pedantic paperwork requirements would do a german agency proud - crazy.

The timezone stuff can get really troublesome. I remember the times when I lived in Omsk (Siberia) and flew home to Germany. We would take off at 15:30 and be landing in Berlin at 16:00 - all well, but I had sat 5 and a half hoursin the plane. So my internal clock was out of whack for days, with me falling asleep in the afternoon and waking up in the middle of the night.

Capt. Schmoe said...

Thank you very much for your blog. I find it interesting to hear about the things you encounter during your day. If I may, could you expand a little on what it is you are doing exactly? It sounds like your missions involve a little more than flying folks/stuff from point A to point B. I understand your need for some discretion. Thanks in advance

Aviatrix said...

The CAA is the British aviation regulatory agency. Many Canadian laws might be based on the British ones, but Canada has its own regulatory agency, called Transport Canada.

I don't know what Transport Canada actually requires be recorded on the OFP for a commercial flight, I just know that I have filled in some variation on this form for every company I have done non-instructional work for, and that every once in a while a chief pilot or ops manager sends out a memo telling captains to be sure that ALL FIELDS are filled in on the OFP. A Transport Canada audit typically involves them picking a few random flights and asking to see all the associated paperwork, to make sure it lines up.

You're allowed to have standard flight plans and just sign them, if you're flying the same route a lot.

I think the difference here is that in Canada a commercial flight is a commercial flight. For example an airplane doing what mine does in the US is only obliged to have an annual inspection. Mine goes into the shop every 50 hours it flies -- i.e. every four days, when we're busy! I'm not sure that a US pilot doing what I do has any duty time limitations, either.

A Squared said...

TC, yeah, that's what I meant. I knew that you'd thrown off the yoke of the imperial oppressor, now all you have to do is get her picture off your money.

I'm not sure that a US pilot doing what I do has any duty time limitations, either.

Nope, they don't

Unknown said...

" it to Transport Canada if they ask."

It gets more than a little crazy of late... Reading your dilemma with dates also reminds me of the way MELs are written ... in determining what constitutes "X" number of days or hours that a particular piece of equipment can be u/s.

All this plus all the stuff you mention, and not to forget the Air Regs that actually are important because we fly them each day...

I fantasize that every flight deck needs a red telephone with a 1-800-CALLMYLAWYER instant connnection!

That or less legality, more common sense.

Louise said...

I'm currently writing software for an Electronic Flight Bag so this was a really interesting post for me.
We leave our devices set at GMT at all times and so we are expecting all times entered to be in Zulu, although I have no idea whether this was an airline preference or a regulatory thing.

I'm interested in the responses from the pilots of different countries. In my experience, although there are differences in fields required between airlines (and between aircraft/engine types) most customers want the same basic fields.

Anonymous said...

I'm dressed and at work at 8am and I am jealous. You get to fly (ok the OFPs sound like a pain but, you get to fly to interesting places)! I don't comment much but read regularly. Thanks for telling me all about it.

Unknown said...

Transport Canada Operational Flight Plan Standard (CARS 702/Aerial Work)

I have found that using GMT or Zulu time reduces errors when recording times, especially when crossing time zones and dealing with the outdated notion of daylight savings time.

Unknown said...

Sorry, it appears that the address was cut off. Try this:

N6349C said...

And I was hoping for a little might music, wine and roses. Hope your life isn't all flying and sleeping.

Sarah said...

I'm confused, just reading your stream of consciousness. Why not just use Zulu time for all and be done with it?

A more important question may be, do you get paid on days you don't fly or just when the engines are running?

For example an airplane doing what mine does in the US is only obliged to have an annual inspection. Mine goes into the shop every 50 hours it flies

I don't know about that, not knowing exactly how you're flying. If you carry any passengers for hire ( you have in the past ) , the a/c must have 100hr inspections even when flying "part 91" in the US.

Aviatrix said...

To clear up confusion: at work I always use zulu time. If I rent or borrow an airplane and the existing journey log uses local time, I will use local time, in accordance with what is already in there, and if I cross a time zone boundary in that borrowed airplane I will record both take off and landing times in the take-off time zone. I have no difficulty with this.

The difficulty arises if I do a flight on the 4th of June, but the flight happens to take place after 00Z, so it's the 5th of June zulu time. Do I put the 4th on the customer's paperwork (because they know damn well I flew on the 4th) and the 5th in the journey log? And worse, what if I go on duty before 00Z but start the engine after 00Z? What if I start the engine (i.e. the flight) before 00Z but don't take off until after 00Z? If I put the date the flight began as the 4th but the first time recorded is the take off time of the 00:03, then it looks as if I look off on the 4th at 00:03, 24 hours earlier.

So whether you use zulu or local, if you start the engine before midnight and take off after midnight what date do you put on the paperwork?

Sarah said...

Ah, clearer. We don't have Journey Logs down here, and it makes sense to keep whatever conventions are already there.

By the same token, your confusions arise when mixing conventions. Shouldn't one just pick a convention, indicate which is being used on the paperwork and that's that? A time&date should have a timezone with it.

What if I start the engine (i.e. the flight) before 00Z but don't take off until after 00Z? If I put the date the flight began as the 4th but the first time recorded is the take off time of the 00:03, then it looks as if I look off on the 4th at 00:03, 24 hours earlier.

Not if you write "start 2350Z 6/03, t/o 0003 6/4". I must be missing something.

It could be worse. Imagine straddling the international dateline. No one has ever managed to explain how that works to me. :)

dpierce said...

I've always adhered to the strict date in all situations. I think that's pretty universally understood now. On my DVR, if you want to record a program that comes on "Monday night", just after midnight, it's listed as "Tuesday". So, I assume if this rubric is safe for consumer level applications, it must be fairly well understood.

That said, my company designed software for a rather well known business that had the date rolling over at 7am, rather than midnight. In other words, the date stayed the same until the next shift came in in the morning. That worked fine until the company opened an office in Australia and things got confusing.

I suppose back in the old days when all these standards were written in stone, people assumed the whole world would be snug in their beds by 20:00.

Aviatrix said...

As I mentioned in the entry proper, the journey log edition attached to this airplane does not ask that engine on/off times be recorded, just up/down times. There no place to put the engine times. The date column is tiny, too. I have to run "9JUN09" over the lines into the margin and adjacent columns, so there's no room for 9-10JUN09, which is what I may try anyway.

GPS_Direct said...

When I first saw the title, Herb Alpert's "Spanish Flea" popped into my head! Thanks.

As usual, a thought provoking post! Curious the difference in logging for instructional flights. Probably just red tape, but why would a local training flight not be the "same" as a non-xc flight back to the airport of departure?

What's involved in the 50 hour? Knowing how some maintainers / engineeers work, the plane would be down more than it was up in many outfits...

And, from a learning point, you've got me digging through Part 91 and 119 to see what constitutes "passenger for hire" - i.e. your customer or equipment operator sitting in the back...

Aviatrix said...

Flight training is a separate entity in the Canadian air regulations. Flight instructors don't have duty time limits, flight training units have distinct operating certificates, and so one. It is under part 402, but is still treated differently.

Aviatrix said...

Oh and my company has gone to a new maintenance schedule, so I plan to blog about that in the future.

Anonymous said...

The difference between nominal date (for business purposes) and actual time (for which I tend to use UTC) is something that I've had to deal with in my profession. I tend to record all times as UTC to avoid confusion, but that means, for example, that a stock trade that happened on the 7th or 9th was one that happened on the 8th, as far as the business date goes, depending on what exchange it was traded on and what the exact time was.

If I were in charge of how the paperwork gets filled out in your situation, I can think of a few possible solutions. One is to take a cue from your new METAR format and prefix the day to the time, at least for the first time recorded for that day, so that you might start the engines at 08T2355, taxi at 2359, and take off at 09T0003. Another is to use times outside of the 0000-2359 range, giving either 2355, 2359 and 2403 on the 8th, or -0005, -0001 and +0003 on the 9th.

This latter method is actually used in the civilian world by shops in Japan that stay open past midnight: it's not unusual to see a bar specify that it's opening hours are from 1800-2500, or a nightclub that an event runs from 2200-2900.