Thursday, October 15, 2015

Extra-Vehicular Activities

I was trying to find a clip of the coffee-ordering scene from the movie Pushing Tin. In the film it's a demonstration of how many pieces of data on different aircraft that an experienced controller can hold in his or her head simultaneously. I didn't find the clip, but I came across a pilot ordering coffee and wings in the midst of an emergency, and a fun YouTube channel of humourous exchanges from the New York Kennedy ground frequency.

Taxiing at a large, unfamiliar airport is just about as stressful as flying at night in ice. There's just one of me to keep the airplane moving, watch out for bad pavement, find the directional signs, interpret the taxi diagram, identify the intersections, and spot the aircraft I'm supposed to give way to. It's obvious to the controllers which way I should go, but they know the airport layout perfectly, and from their vantage point they can see where they want to put me. They seem almost as unhappy when I pause to complete a checklist or figure out my route as they do when I think that Foxtrot-Golf is the next turn, not this one right here. Sure, if I get it badly wrong in ice, I'll lose control of the airplane and die, but that consequence might be less painful than the scolding that an irate controller can dish out. The worst case scenario on the taxi is also death: should I venture onto an active runway at the wrong moment, I could get run over and take out a widebody, too. That is part of the reason the controllers can be so stressed. The rest of their focus is knowing that it is ridiculously easy for us poorly-maneuverable ground vehicles to become gridlocked, delaying everyone. The controllers have a plan for getting everyone where we are supposed to be, and if I miss a turn, I'm like the Tetris brick dropped in the wrong place, messing up the whole board. Meanwhile controllers are really smart, constantly building and recalculating plans, but with enough spare brainpower to make smart remarks.

The link above is not to the first or the funniest of the clips on the channel, but rather to one that is more odd than funny: a Lufthansa crew suspects they have an access panel open and once that's confirmed by another taxiing aircraft, ask permission to put a crewmember outside the airplane to close it. It's interesting and a little outside the norm, but the controller seems to think it's hilarious. I wonder what he would have made of a stop-and-go I did the other day: I landed on a long runway, let a crew member out to adjust an external sensor, and then after he was back in and belted, took off again without ever leaving or backtracking the runway. The controller handling me didn't act as though it were an unusual request. I had assessed the approaching traffic on frequency before making the request, so I was confident there was no one close behind me. I'm not sure we spent any longer on the runway than we would have had we landed and taxied off in the normal way.


jes said...

I wonder how one gets out of an A340 on a taxiway?

Andrew said...

Thru the Avionics bay. The avionics bay is accessible from the cockpit, and there's a ladder stowed there.