Leaving the B team for the A team… 

Well about 5 months agao I got official word that my bid for an Airbus 330 conversion was successful.  I know, I bid for it.  There was a nieve time in my life when I believed the catch phrase “if its not Boeing, I’m not going” and would proudly declare “I don’t want to fly an airbus!”  

Oh how a young metro pilot thought he knew everything.  Well the fact is, I get bored easily.  Now thats not to say that I mastered the Boeing 777, far from it.  But, as I did with my previous outfit, I became interedted in the possibility of change.  While flying turboprops in Canada, I had the chance to switch fleets and fly multiple types.  In fact, for about a year, I was a training Captain on the Metro 2, Metro 3, and Beech 99, while maintaining my qualifications as a Dash 8 First Officer.  In short, that meant I was doing recurrent training every few months, and any  given day I went to work, I could end up in one fo seven different seats.  Despite for a time there was talk of allowing Boeing pilots to fly the 777 and 747 at the same time, that never developed.  So to replicate my old habits, I will soon be able to fly the A330 and A350.  

The way it works.  Well first I complete all the necessary training for the A330-300, which Cathay flies.  (The 330-200 for interest has centre fuel tanks and a few hours more range then our 300’s).  At the moment, I am about half way through simulator training.  The usual gauntlet of technical ground school, and IPT training is done, and now its all simulator flying.  In about 2 weeks time I will be checked out and spending a few days relaxing while the HKCAD (Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department) validates my type rating on my license.  I must say, the Airbus is a completely different machine all together.  Now for those who don’t fly, I’ll try and simplify the degree to which they are different.  Its not as simple as a Samsung v. LG remote, or even Apple v. Android.  It’s more like comparing math with Latin.  The philosophies (of which I’m still wrapping my head around) are just different.  Boeing is an airplane, that has systems and in some cases computers to help with a pilot flying the airplane.  The Airbus, well its an airplane, but the computers make it fly and the pilots are told not to mess with them! Ha.  It is a very sophisticated airplane that has Normal, Alternate, and Direct flight laws.  If all the computers fail (or in some cases a combination of dual hydraulic failures) you can end up in Direct Law.  Most pilots here this and think “oh the system is degraded and now barely anything works”.  Well, yes and now.  The things that don’t work, are the various protections that keep the airplane from banking to steeply, or pitching to high.  So direct law is’t really a degredation, its just a loss of protections.  In other words, its an airplane still, just without the fancy computers keeping the pilot from getting into an undesirebale situation.  At the moment, and I don’t see this changing, I’m really enjoying learning the new systems and a new way to fly.  Jas I enjoyed learning to fly a Beech 99 10 years ago.  

So why the change?  It certainly wasn’t an easy decision.  There was a reasonalbel chance that I would never have to fly another type once I was on the 777, and I could ride the familiarity and comfort of a single plane all the way to retirement.  Pilot’s generally don’t become pilots to fly a single kind of airplane though.  So as an aviator, there is an element of a professional challenge in learining a new type, and some pride to be able to say “I have flown the 747-400, 747-8, 777, A330 and soon enough the A350”.  Especially that I will have flown all of these types inside 7 years.  So the kid in me at the airport fence watching airplanes takeoff and land thinks that is pretty neat.  Lifetyle wise, things change for me on the A330.  My usual 777 month was 3 long haul flights to North America or Europe, and perhaps a day or two of regional flights.  Now, the longest I will fly will be about 7 hours to Dubai.  Most flights will be under 5 hours.  Which means no more bunks, and no more sleeping on the job.  But it also means rather then the chance to takeoff and land the 777 2 or 3 times a month, I will be “hands on” the Airbus with 15-20 sectors a month, and about 7-10 takeoffs and landings under my belt.  So proficiency shoul quick with the chance to hanlde this new plane on a very regular basis.  Oh, did I mention that the A330 at Cathay doesn’t fly more then 4 hours time zone change from Hong Kong.  So say goodbye to up all night in a North American hotel wondering if Netflix has decided to upload this month!  And hello to some really great regional patterns.  Next month I have a 24 Jakarta layover where our crew hotel is part of a PGA golf resort, so guess what I’ll be doing?  I also have a 24 hour layover in Chennai, India. And I absolutely LOVE going to India.  Our crew hotels there are usually some of the best.  SO a curry lunch and a pool day are in order there.  I also have a 36 hour Beijing layover.  So its a nice change of pace to have a 36 hour layover after a 4 hour flight rather then a 24 hour layover following a 16 hour flight.  Perhpas regional flying like that is unsustainable for a long term career.  But the original intention of the conversion courses offered by Cathay, and my goal, is to convert to the A350.  The newest airplane in the Cathay Pacific fleet is the A350.  We have about 2 dozen A350-900’s and will soon be taking delivery of our first A350-1000.  These new additions to the fleet are the reason Cathay has started service to Brussels, Copehagen, Dublin, Gatwick, Barcelona, and Christchurch over the last year, with Washington starting soon, and more to come it seems.  So once I have been CCQ’d (cross crew qualified) on the 350, I  be able to fly both airplanes.  So the hopes are that a nice mix of regional flying and a few long haul trips a month to some new destinations will be the best of both worlds so to speak.  

More to come from the A team experience in the coming weeks when I get to fly the airplane for real.  

Fly safe everyone, 


A little recap of 777 training…

So in late November 2014 I got word from the admin side of the flight ops department that I would be upgrading to First Officer on the Boeing 777.  My first thougts were its too bad I won’t get to really fly the 747, but at least I was a second officer on it for almost 3 years.  In a time when heavy 4 engine jets are not as efficient as the competition, I was lucky enough to get the time on it I did.  The second thought I had, was excitement in getting to fly the 777.  Not only would the transition to fly a newer Boeing be easy, but the FO schedule on that fleet was, and still is the best in the compmnay.  Most rosters can be managed to 3 long haul trips a month, with 18 days or so at home away from work, with family.  That is pretty ideal to most pilots.  What I have learned over the last 3 years is that despite having lots of time off, the actual flying has become for a lack of a better term, boring.  We do indeed get to see various parts of the world, Europe, North America, South Africa, but when you only get one or two PF (pilot fying) sectors a month, you start to yearn for the multi sector days bashing around Northern Manitoba in a Metro!  This would eventually factor into my recent decision to bid for the Airbus fleet trasnfer and fly the A330 regionally for a year or more.  

Anyways, more on that upcoming transition later, for now, back to the 777 upgrade.  The first thing I did once I realised the amount of work I had in front of me, was log onto the company website and begin downloading the multitude of manuals that I would need to familiarise myself with over the coming months (and years really, these manuals often change and are updated).  Cathay Pacific, like many airlines has multiple variants of the 777.  We have 5 777-200’s, including the very first Boeing 777 ever built, B-HNL.  This would aly be the airframe I would do my circuits in after I completed simulator training.  For all initial P1 Aircraft ratings, the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department requires pilots to complete at least 5 takeoff’s and landings to a satisfactory standard before beginning line training on regular revenue flights.  In addition to the five 200’s, Cathay also has 12 777-300’s fitted for regional flying, and 53 777-300 ER’s for our long haul and ultra long haul flying.  So with manuals, ground school slides, system exams, performance workbooks, and a handful of other manuals and documents downloaded, the work began.  

My first plan of attack was to answer the 500 some odd questions in our systems study guide.  These questions are organized in groups based on the various aircraft systems (Fire Protection, Hydraulics, etc) so with a fmailiar working knowledge of Boeing flight manuals, I knew this would be the best way to dig into the systems.  So on subsequent days off, and layovers, my notebook, questions, and iPad full of manuals came with me every where I went.  I probably completed the most amount of questions in a Tim Hortons in Richmond BC on Vancouver layovers.  Often in North America on a layover I find myself awake on Hong Kong time, so the 24 hour coffee shop would do nicely in the middle of the night.  Hotel rooms with cable TV are too distracting for my feable mind.  

The next best thing for home study (which actually appears on our schedule as it is mandatory) was to get my hands on the Computer Based Training and complete the automated ground school.  This was also a tad time consuming, and not particularly exciting, somehow a computer generated voice explaining aircraft systems just isn’t as interesting as flying.  Nebvertheless, several dozens of hours later, that was complete, and all well before my official start date for the training program.  All part of the plan as I would rather be done most of the work before the work had to happen.  All that was left was more then enough time to review and do some more reading for the upcoming in person ground school.  I also made great use of the IPT (instrument procedures trainer) as this would be an important part of the technical ground school before simulator training.  The IPT gives a pilot the best chance at leanring flow’s, SOP’s, and checklist/switch familiarity before getting into the simulator when 4 hour sessions dissapear quickly as the fire hose of new knowledge is sprayed in ones face.

So finally groundschool week begins in February of 2015.  Day one was all the easy things, Aircraft Emergency Briefing, with fellow cockpit crew, the annual refresher course on how to use emerhgency exits, where all the fire extinghuishers are, and how to dy the emergency rafts.  Overall this is the least interesting day of the new training, but it is necessary nonetheless and hopefully never needed.  We complete the exact same day long training course once every year no matter which aircraft we fly.  On to the good stuff.  The next five days of groundschool cover all the aircraft systems.  Each day consists of a morning of classroom instruction (3-4 hours) followed by IPT sessions after a lunch break.  The IPT sessions are used to consolidate the information we learned during the morning lecture/slideshow sessions.  For example, if Hydraulics were covered in the morning, then we do take a lootk at several of the Hydraulic system failures in the IPT and the subsequent electronic checklists.  By the way the electronic checklists might be my favourite part of the 777, a feature that only the newer 747-8 aircraft were equipped with.  There’s no need to go into any detail about each day, the systems are complicated but presneted well enough to get a good understadning of them in short order.  I will say that for a twin engine airplane, the triple redundancy in almost every major system is quite impressive.  The systems are also presented in the cokpit in a much simpler format then the 747 was.  Primarily this is due to the simple fact that the 777 newer then the mid 80’s designed 747-400, so for example, when it comes to fuel pump management, there is very little to do in the 777 compared to the 747.  In the 777, we drain the centre tanks first, and then when prompted, turn those two pumps off.  That’s all we do between engine start up and engine shut down.  The 747-400 on the other hand, we would pressurize all fuel tanks, takeoff on the centre tank, then drain the HST tank in the horizontal stabilisers, then back to the mains to drain them, move onto the two out wing tanks, and then main tanks 2 and 3 on the inboard of each wing.  Turning off each relevant pump when the tank’s were emptied.  Probably 5 times as much pump switching as the 777.  Simpler, is better!  

Following the 5 days of technical groundschool we have a 100 question systems exam to complete.  These questions are based on the 500 or so questions I completed a few months prior and subsequently had reviewed probably well over a dozen times to this point.  Thirty minutes of so after logging onto the computer based testing program, complete, passed, time to move on to the next part of the course.  A performance briefing.  Despite a multitude of options to calculate takeoff, and landing data, and just about everything in between, we have to be shown how to do calculations manually bassed on the performance manual.  All I can say is, thankfully, we almost never have to consult these manuals as we have multiple automated methods to make such calculations.  Including sendind an SMS to a company number with relevant data to get our takeoff speeds.  


OK, the classroom work is over.  Time to figure out how to actually fly this airplane.  We made use of the IPT and simulator together in two sections, normal procedures, and non normal procedures.  Four sessions in the IPT learning all the basics of flows, normal checklist, a few simple non normal checklists.  Next into the simulator for 4 full flight simulator sessions of similar nature.  For these however, due to our extensive training in the Hong Kong simulators, we would be in Singapore for a week to complete the 4 sessions.  Back to Hong Kong following that for three non normal IPT sessions, once again followed by 3 sims in SIngapore.  If you ever have the desire to enjoy 30 degree weather and a chance of thunderstorms, then SIngapore is for you.  Any day of the year.  Its a very nice, clean city, with relatively good weather.  With the exception of the odd torrential downpour from an ITCZ afternoon thunderstorm, its generally hot and mostly sunny.  


Check ride time.  For an initital conversion course we are required to do an aircraft type rating and instrument rating in tow different sessions.  Subsequent bi-annual check rides can accomplish both of these in one session.  Once these were completed, it was a few sims of strictly circuits, followed by what every pilot has thought about at one time or another, touch ang go’s in an empty airliner.  I was lucky enough to be sccheduled my circuits in B-HNL, the first Boeing 777 every built.  If you google Boeing 777 test flight videos, those crazy crosswind landings in the desert are done in the airplane I was about to fly that day.  Soon we will be retiring our 777-200’s and rumour has it HNL will end up in the Smithsonian Museum.  I have to say, circuits were more then fun.  Especially with an empty airplane and a Vref (final approach speed) of 125 knots.  Considering some of the old Metro 23’s I used to fly would ref at 119 knots at max landing weight, this seemed like the fun of flying a small plane, while handling a large jet… perfection.  Not only was the airplane perfect, the weather was basically ideal, just the hint of a crosswind, and sunny skies in Zuhai, China.  Not too far from Hong Kong, we zipped over to Zuhai and made the most of our jet for the day.  After my circuits, I hopped in the jump seat and watched my sim partner have a turn.  We both felt pretty pleased with oursleves.  The culmination of months of stng, weeks of intensive training, and a few middle of the night sims, had resulted in 777 licensed pilots.  Now for the hard part, landing smoothly with 398 judges in the back.  


Line flying would begin in 10 days.  

With 10 days off before line flying was to commence I decided to head home to Canada to visit some family for a week.  Unfortunately with it being eeaster weekend, the only way I could get to Winnipeg on staff travel tickets was Hong Kong to Paris, 6 hours later on to Toronto, and about 4 hours later, then it was into Winnipeg after a lot of miles travelled.  By the time I returned to Hong Kong via Vancouver, I had circled the globe.  But enough about that, it was time to get to the real work.  Line flying.  The first two patterns I had were a Bangkok turnaround, and a Cebu turn around.  On the Cebu trip the safety pilot in the jumpseat was a fellow Canadian.  In fact, in 1998 I fueled his Piper Cherokee that he was time building in while I was working the ramp at the Winnipeg Flying Club.  Being a fellow aviation nerd, he made sure to take advantage of the down time on the Cebu turn to boost me into the giant 11 foot intake of the GE90-115B engine of our 777-300 ER.  I can’t confirm if a photo was taken, but you get the idea.  
I am currently sitting in a coffee shop in Nanaimo BC waiting for my Harbour Air DHC-3 Turbine Otter ride back to Vancouver.  I took this time on this layover to finally visit Vancouver Island.  And as I sit here, I cannot remember where my next sectors were, other then I know at some point in the first few weeks I did a Narita turnaround, on which we suffered and ENG OIL FILT message on the way to Narita (a problem with the engine oil filter which will likely lead to an engine failure or shutdown, althouogh today it didnt).  On the return sector to Hong Kong (a 4.5 hour flight back into the jet stream) we flew into ice crystal icing conditions.  Modern high bypass ratio engines can be susceptable in the right meteorlogical conditions (warmer air just below 0 C and high moisture content) to ice crystal icing.  Basically a condition where small particles of ice form on the interior of the engine including components and probes used to calculate Engine Pressure Ratio readings.  The result of which is the loss of FMC commanded thrust, an auto throttle failure, and basically two engines that have reverted to a degraded manual mode of thrust.  This in and of itself does not generally pose a significant risk, however the idea is to exit those conditions sooner then later to avoid excessive ice buildup.  In this instance based on the weather radar returns and the sig wx charts, continuing straight ahead on our flight plan route provided the quickest exit.  So after about 20 minutes, the ice sublimates once we returned to colder dryer air, and all systems are back to normal.  My first significant events while flying the 777 and I’m not even 10 days into it!  Oh well, these planes are designed to handle tough conditions, and with a quick run of a checklist, most of the threat is mitigated right away for such events.  
The first 10 sectors of line flying are done with a safety pilot in the jumpseat.  The idea is while the training Captain is monitoring someone who has never flown a large airliner, they might miss something, and that something might be significant.  So the extra set of eyes is there to help catch any such miss.  After 10 sectors, as long as the new FO is showing progression to a particular standard, the safety pilot is released and the new FO can now fly with more junior training captains (still quite senior in the airline).  The training syllabus consists of 40 sectors in total with a progress report at the mid way point.  My progress report was HKG-NRT-TPE for an overnight, and then the reverse on day two.  The only thing I knew of the training Captain who would be performing the check was that he lived in my neighbourhood.  So when I was up before dawn to walk my dogs I figured the likelihood of me running into anyone was low.  So I let the dogs off leash for some fun, only to be surprised by a morning jogger, who my dogs decided to chases away.  Now my dogs don’t have a mean bone in their body, but when they think they are alone, and get startled, they will let said startler know they do not appreciate the surprise.  Now from across a park in the dark I couldn’t tell you who this jogger was, but given my training captain lived nearby, I “forgot” to mention during the cruise get to know you conversation that I had three white dogs.  
I don’t know if leaving that out helped my progress review, but I managed to get a good report, and was moving on to the next 20 sectors.  After seeing a lot of Japan, Bangkok, Taipei, and Manilla, I was going to see San Francisco, as part of the next 20 sectors.  Doing at least one long haul during line training is required, I was fortunate enough to see Paris in the first 20 sectors, and then SFO.  Other then a polar route to the east coast of North America, I would basically get a little taste of everything during line training.  
After the required 40 sectors, and an approval from the final traning Captain, it was time for the line check.  I asked around about this check captain and heard nothing but good things.  And after finding out we shared a common past time in playing tennis, the final 4 sectors HKG-TPE-KIX and return were uneventful and a good report followed.  I was now cut loose as a JFO (Junior First Officer) and able to fly with all but our newest Captains on the 777.  In 6 months I would do another 4 sector line check and officially become a 3 stripe First Officer (JFO’s wear two, how degrading ;).  
People say you will never feel more current then after your 40 sectors of line training at Cathay, and in many ways this was true.  Once training is completed most FO’s end up on the usual 3 long haul trips per month schedule.  Given a Captain and two FO’s operate each long haul, there are only two landings available for 3 pilots.  So in many months, CX pilots will only do two takeoffs and landings.  Given I used to do 6-8 a day for 16 days a month or more, my hands and feet were about to take a lesson in short and long term muscle memory.  
In an attmept to mitigate the memory loss, I try as best I can to bid for regional flying (2 pilots, 2 sectors, everyone gets a turn).  Sometimes that wasn’t always available because almost all the regional flying was being used for training.  But in many months pilots would often get rid of regional split duties or turnarounds.  It’s a win win really, make some extra cash (in some cases a lot) and get an extra sector to keep my hands and feet going.  

Guess who’s back?

Well 4 years in the making, my blog posts are about to make a serious comeback.  The idea is to keep the same theme, an aviation blog with a dabble into my personal world.  I’m in the infant stages of the overall gameplan but for those of you that may be reading this, I plan on some good aviation reading in the very near future.  

In the meantime, since my last post, here is a quick timeline of what has changed in my world.  

Feb 2014, my wife and I moved from Mui Wo and our chinese fishing village lifestyle, to a high rise apartment (although we are only on the 7th floor) in a new building in the predominantly expat community of Discovery Bay.  This coincided with getting our third dog, the sister to our second, all three of which are happy and healthy. 

In January of 2015 I completed my last flight as a Second Officer and subsequently my last flight on the 747 (for the foreseeable future anyway) as I was awarded a First Officer position on the 777.  I will have plenty on the upgrade, training, new position, and new airplane in the coming months on my blog.  

In December of 2015, my wife and I had our first baby, a little boy we named Norman Thomas.  He is almost two years old, has travelled the equivelant miles of more then 4 times around the world, visited 10 countries, including several multiple times (more on our amazing travels over the last few years as well.) 

Just recently after almost three yeasr as a first officer on the 777, I bid for and was awarded a fleet transfer to the Airbus 330.  This will eventually lead to flying Cathay Pacific’s newest aircraft, the A350-900/1000.  That conversion course is slated for sometime next year.  

Of course I can expand on all of these topics for days, which I plan to do soon.  I will also do my best to fill in the rather large gap I left since my last blost with some of the very interesting flying I have been doing. 

Hopefully a few of you are still around to read this, and if so, thanks.  You’ll be hearing more from me soon! 

Fly Safe, or at least have someone fly safe for you. 


MH 370, and what didn’t happen.

So much has been talked about and speculated over the last 12 days regarding the fate of Malaysian Airlines flight 370. A Boeing 777-200, among the most sophisticated in the air today, has vanished. It seems everyone and their dog has a “theory”, but that’s wheeler it ends. They are all theories, of which I am ad to say are almost all wrong.

First, the possibilities. Yes anything is possible in this world we live in today (including losing a plane full of 239 people). But let’s look at what has been said, and why it is most likely incorrect.

First, the easy ones. Terrorism. I think by now if the plane had exploded in mid air, at 500 mph, the scattering of debris would have been stumbled onto. (It seems that will be how this is discovered eventually, by stumbling onto it). And given the fact that there are enough ships to walk from Singapore, to Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong without getting your feet wet (Hunt for Red October style quote) I’d say it’s nowhere in the South China Sea basin. Secondly, when a plane explodes, it makes a hell of a flash. This part of e world is full, and I mean FULL of fishing boats. With more then 2 billion people in this corner of the globe, fishing is among the cheapest ways to feed them all. I have seen enough fishing boats between Indonesia and Hong Kong that lit up the black ocean more then the Canadian prairies are lit up at night. Someone would have seen this when it happened, and someone would have found wreckage by now. The same points can be made for an accidental/purposeful shoot down with a missile.

As far as the other theory on terrorism, the plane has been hidden, for a 9/11 type mission at a later date? Why? 9/11 was as dam dating as it was because NO ONE saw it coming. Least of all the authorities. With damn near the whole world looking for a white 777 with a red and blue stripe, it will not get anywhere near a major city without being noticed. So sorry, that’s out too.

Flew by the Maldives you say? Took 11 days for ANY witness to come forward? That right there doesn’t add up. I know they have TV in the Maldives, so someone would have realized they should say something long ago if they did in fact see a 777 cruising by the southern Atoll at sunrise.

The pilot is making a political statement. He has been photographed wearing a “democracy is dead” t shirt. Political extremist wiling to hijack a plane full of people he must be. He is not a political extremist, he sounds like someone who is tired of living in a Muslim nation. It is 2014 after all, some things don’t fly (excuse the pun) anymore (like jailing homosexuals). I can say however that his t shirt collection alone does not make him stand out. In fact, shirts like that with pointless sayings (a t shirt never brought back democracy – revolution maybe, but not a t shirt) are ALL over Asia. Here in Hong Kong I see things on a t shirt almost every day that don’t make much sense, but people think they look cool (like my chip and pepper t shirts in the 80’s).

Ok, the captain has a flight simulator at home. You know why? It’s not because he was practising some elaborate scheme to hide the jet (18,000 hours should have been enough practice). It’s because being a pilot is awesome. We dreamed about flying since a young age, it’s a rush, it’s challenging, and it’s so much fun, many of us do it on our days off. Those that can afford have their own plane, those that can’t OFTEN set up PC based flight simulators. I have rarely seen a lawyer post a picture on Facebook sitting in front of his new laptop with a thumb in the air. But the first thing a pilot does (especially this day in age) when they are checked out onto a new plane, snap a pic and send it to friends/post it on a social media website. People don’t hang out front of a law firm hoping to see a lawyer walk by, but every airport I’ve been too there are “spotters” and “avgeeks” everywhere taking pictures and watching big shiny things make a shit load of noise. If it’s that much fun for people to watch, then obviously it’s that much fun for a pilot to “take the job home” with him/her.

Now for the big one, the viral theory. Which I’m happy to report is starting to be debunked. An in flight fire. Whether it’s a cargo fire, cabin fire, unknown source of smoke, ANY smoke/fire drill calls for two memory items and then auctioning a checklist.

Oxygen mask on.
Communication establish.

Breathe, and talk to someone. First your partner in the cockpit. And then ATC. Even if the smoke/fire requires your immediate attention (they usually do) a quick “Hong Kong control Malaysian 370, unknown smoke, emergency in progress, standby”. Why do we do this, so while our attention is shutting down systems, closing valves, and trying to isolate and put out what is among the worst inflight emergencies, ATC starts their work. They immediately will move traffic out of the way, knowing that you are about to turn around and land somewhere, because if you don’t, you are probably going to die in a little less than 20 minutes. They will also instinctively know where the closest airports are and start pulling up weather and NOTAMS to make sure that airport can accommodate your emergency landing. So once you have completed a checklist/procedure and the pilot calls ATC and says, we need to land ASAP, ATC can come back with Langkawi Airport is at your 7 o’clock 70 miles, weather CAVOK. Heading bug left 130 degrees and away you go. Swissair flight 111, the MD-11 that suffered a fire inboard spoke with ATC for 15 minutes before the cockpit roof finally melted on the pilots heads and the plane crashed into the Atlantic. A UPS 747-400F suffered a cargo fire leaving Dubia, and spoke win ATC for 10 minutes until there last calls were “there’s too much smoke, we can’t see anything, which way do we turn”. Pilots talk, even when there is nothing to to we talk to each other. It’s rare, almost unbelievable that they would not have said one thing to ATC. and certainly if the plane was over come by smoke and the pilots coughed their last cough, they would have said something before the pane just headed in the direction it was programmed for 5 hours. And if a fire was bad enough to knock out the passengers, how could the plane fly for 5 more hours without burning up?

So what was it? Where did the plane go that no one could find it? Someone was in control that I am sure. Someone who knew how to turn things off and fly in a way that would be difficult to track. Someone who knew where the deepest part of the Indian Ocean is, and how to get there with the fuel they had. Someone who wanted to die. Sadly, it has happened before, and I think this could be what has happened now. A pilot suicide event. I won’t speculate any further, as there is no need. These are just my thoughts on where something went and possibly why, and most likely why not. Time will tell we are all hoping.

Fly safe.

A Day In The Life: Time to go to Work



As I approached this idea to write about “a day in the life” I figured it best to take the “average” day.  As most of my trips (about 75% of them) have a sign on time in Hong Kong between 10pm and midnight, I will write about one of those days.  


One of the most important things when considering starting a flight after 10pm that will last anywhere from 8-14 hours or sometime more, is proper rest. So when I’m going to bed the night before I go to work, I usually set my alarm for around 700am.  I find it important to wake up nice and early with some sort of physical activity for the morning.  Usually this involved a workout with Impact Fitness of Hong Kong.  By the time an intense workout is over at about 930 I return home for yet another important part of the work day.  A good breakfast.  It can be a very uncomfortable flight if you have eaten large, rich meals all day before going to work late at night.  Not only can it be physically uncomfortable, but a full stomach also (for me anyway) really makes me want to go to sleep, especially when its near midnight.  So for breakfast, usually a fresh fruit/spinach smoothie, or maybe a couple of eggs, avocado, and a decaf coffee.  Decaf is important, along with waking up early for a common reason which I will get too.  The next few hours can vary, sometimes we will take the dogs to the beach, or the waterfall, or do some errands in the town center of Mui Wo.  Those few hours can also be as simple as taking the dogs for a walk and relaxing at home and catching up on some North American TV.  When that comes to an end, I will usually take care of all my “pre-flight” activities.  I pack my suitcase, get my uniform ready, and review the route for the evening with our company port pages and route briefings.  The port pages are a 4-12 page document that detail everything there is to know about a given airport.  Terrain considerations, speed restrictions, Low Visibility Operations capability, even as detailed as to which taxiways our large 747-8 can taxi on (Vancouver as an example has many taxiways that are not certified for a plane of that size).  The route briefings are just that, a 8-12 page document that detail ATC requirements, typical weather patters for a given region, communications procedures, and others, so that before heading out on a given flight, between the port pages and route briefings, we can have an excellent understanding of a new route, or a good review of a route we frequent.  So with those notes done, and my luggage packed, I will either look at the bus schedule or arrange for a taxi.  Generally the ride from my village to the airport is about 40 minutes.  Sometimes less, sometimes more, but it usually offers a nice view crossing the mountain range on Lantau Island.  


So off to bed.  My pre flight nap.  The light breakfast/decaf coffee, along with waking up early in the morning and working out, usually yield a little fatigue for me by mid afternoon.  This is the perfect scenario.  I close the blackout blinds, put in ear plugs and head for bed.  I usually set an alarm for 3-4 hours later depending on how tired I am.  If I sleep for the whole time, great!  If I wake up after 2 hours, well that is just my body telling me I’ve had enough sleep.  So when I wake up I am usually greeted with my wife having prepared a nice dinner for me.  Again eating lighter foods, and smaller portions are key for me.  If I have a big heavy, rich meal, I get to work and just want to crawl into bed.  If I have a smaller meal that is healthier, I remain energetic when it comes time to report for work.  So after dinner, I will relax with the dogs and my wife.  Take the dogs for a walk, and then check the airline’s employee web site for the first version of our Computer Flight Plan.  Usually within about 5 hours of the departure time, there will be an initial flight plan generated.  Sometimes these plans will change, usually just the Zero Fuel Weight as passenger/cargo loads can change.  So once I have downloaded the 60 plus page document onto m iPad, I start with the basics.  First things first.  Check the aircraft registration, the type (can be one of five different types: 747-400 passenger, 400 freighter, 400 Extended Range Freighter, 400 Boeing Converted freighter, and of course the 747-8F) of which there are three different engine types.  So there are some numbers (weights, and engine temperature limits are the most relevant) that need to be reviewed once we know which plane we will be operating.  


Next I check the fuel information.  I cross check all the numbers with the total fuel required and then add the zero fuel weight to get a ramp weight.  These figures are all on the flight plan, but of course we double check them before each flight.  From those calculations we can get our takeoff and landing weights to ensure they are within the operating limits.  For those interested, the maximum takeoff weight of the 747-8F is 447,695 kgs.  Or just under 985,000 pounds.  Quite impressive in my opinion.  


With all my preflight notes complete, its shower, change, and head to work.  I like to arrive about 30-45 minutes before sign on time to make sure I am well prepared, and just in case there are some traffic problems I have a built in buffer.  


So arrival at work.  We scan into Cathay City with our crew id cards and head to the storage room next to flight planning where I leave my suitcase until it’s time to head to the plane.  The room is quite large, and accommodates several wide body crews (up to 21 of us on a 747-400 passenger flight).  Off to the bathroom to quickly get into my uniform shirt.  The Hong Kong summers are too hot to make the commute to work in a uniform shirt, so I usually wear a T-shirt and then make the change into a freshly ironed shirt once I am at CX City.  With that, it’s onto the briefing tables.  Cathay has a nice set up where each flight has it’s own table or counter with our documents bag.  In here we find the binders with all relevant port pages and airport charts for the route.  We also add a few house keeping items.  Ear plugs, sanitary wipes, screen wipes, replacement earmuffs for the headset, and of course, Evian facial spray to help stay moisturized in the dry air of a pressurized airplane.  Once “the shopping” is done, I double check that the paperwork matches the online information that I looked at earlier.  It is around now when the other crew members arrive and we all introduce ourselves, or catch up with someone we may have flown with before.  It is quite common that there will be some changes to the load (passengers or cargo) at this point, or perhaps the aircraft tail number we will be flying, if there has been a maintenance issue with the planned airplane.  Once we take note of any changes, the crew decide on a fuel load.  If all things are as planned and there are no outstanding contingencies, we will take flight planned fuel.  Our flight plan fuel covers virtually all contingencies enroute (weather, traffic, etc.) as well as an additional percentage to cover us in case there are more things to deal with on our flight.  Generally speaking flight planned fuel is enough, but occasionally we will increase that fuel if the weather at the arrival end is questionable.  Even with an ok forecast at out arrival airport, we can take advantage of other clues to see if the weather will in fact be as advertised.  The most common example is returning to Hong Kong, with say Shenzhen as our alternate.  Perhaps Hong Kong has some thunderstorms in the forecast, but Shenzhen does not.  So using Shenzhen as the alternate is legal, but when you look at Macau, and Guangzhou weather, you see they are both forecasting thunderstorms.  All of these airports are within about 20 miles of each other, so it is likely that some extra gas will be needed.  


Ok, so fuel is decided.  Off to the airplane.  We clear customs and security right in our building next to flight planning.  We jump on a crew bus and make the 5 minute drive to the airport.  Depending on the gate, or cargo position we are parked at, we are usually at the plane within another 5 minutes.  Collect our bags, and make our way up the stairs to the main deck.  In the freighter we leave our suitcase on the main deck near the L1 door, where cargo handlers will strap them down next to the sidewall in the midst of 100 plus tons of cargo.  On a passenger flight, we can check out bags right at Cathay City and they are loaded in the belly just like everyone else’s bags.  Up to the cockpit now and we all sort our belongings and start with job number one.  The Captain will go through the Log Book.  ANy outstanding defects or operational notes we need to consider?  Hopefully not.  For the most part these “snags” are dealt with whenever the aircraft has some down time between sectors.  Of course if there is a serious matter, they are dealt with immediately.  When all the information in reviewed in the Log Book, we then start our duties.  The pilot flying for the sector will begin initializing the FMC and ACARS, while the monitoring pilot will go do a walk around.  Big or small, every plane needs a walk around by one of the flight crew.  Me?  Well the second officer has the responsibility of a cockpit pre flight check.  It is a basic run down of all the equipment on board.  From cockpit voice recorders, to life vests, to escape harnesses.  The freighter aircraft adds more of the safety equipment that normally falls under the duties of a flight attendant (life rafts, portable oxygen masks, etc).  Once that is done, it’s time for the easy part.  Make the beds.  Both the freighters and passenger 747’s have two beds for in flight crew rest.  


When that is done.  We all assemble back in the cockpit.  I usually start a pot of coffee if I am on a cargo flight, and grab some bottles of water for the Captain and FO.  When we are back up front, the cockpit set up is finished.  Our final zero fuel weight arrives via ACARS and we enter the current weather information and send for our Take Off Data for the day.  We obtain our IFR clearance, enter the data into the CDU for the flight, and then we are ready for pushback and start up.  Throughout all that my role as a Second Officer is basically just support and an extra set of eyes.  


Next comes the fun part.  Taxiing our for takeoff you get a real sense of the size of the 747, especially when you pass any other airplanes.  With the exception of the A380, the 747 dwarfs other airplanes.  A large wide body like the A330 doesn’t even compare to the length and height of a 747.  It’s a cool feeling considering the last airplane I was a crew member on had a prop clearance of less then 12 inches.  Once on the takeoff roll, it doesn’t take long for the mighty 747 to reach takeoff speed.  Despite being more then 800,000 pounds, or just shy of a million pounds in the case of the 747-8F, Boeing and GE/Pratt Whitney, and Rolls Royce have teamed up to make an airframe, wing, power plant combination that would defy what the Wright Brothers first envisioned possible when it came to powered flight.  Even at the heaviest weights, we reach a cruise altitude of 31,000 feet (typically) in around 20 minutes or less.  With an economic cruise speed of around Mach 0.83, the 747 is almost climbing at that speed through the final segment, and rarely needs any time to accelerate.  My old metro, at a heavy weight, might be climbing at 140 knots when leveling at 21,000 feet, and would take 10 minutes to reach a cruising speed of 190 knots indicated airspeed.  


So with the plane set up in cruise, we have a few house keeping items to take care of.  By this time I will have jumped in the right or left hand seat depending on who is ready for sleep first.  Fill out a bit of information in the ACARS for the closing report that will come at the end of the flight.  Next, enter the step climbs as they appear on the flight plan into the CDU.  This gives our FMC (the brain of the airplane) an accurate plan for our flight when it comes to calculating fuel used and time to our arrival airport.  Once the house keeping items, the next thing to do is get some enroute weather.  When departing for Anchorage, the first airports that we obtain weather for are usually Taipei, Naha (Okinawa), Fukuoka and Osaka.  These are basically the major airports on our route at intervals of about 45 minutes to an hour.  The reason for checking weather at airports we have no intention of flying to?  Well once the ACARS prints out the latest METAR’s we check to see if there would be any reason that we could not land there in the event of an emergency.  We also go over the NOTAM’s (which we checked before the flight) for those airports for a quick reminder on the relevant info.  So if we know there are no NOTAMS restricting a landing, and the weather is good to support a landing, then we file that in our minds as good to go “in case of”.  In case of what?  Well a cargo fire is the most time critical situation, and if that occurs, we take immediate action to head to one of these airports.  Engine failures and depressurization are also critical situations, but mostly when it comes to fuel.  Depressurizing is the most fuel critical situation, as we have to descend to a breathable flight level (FL140) where our engines are less efficient per nautical mile flown.  In both these cases however, we more then likely would not divert to the closest airport.  It is a very situation specific.  If we had a simple engine flameout, we can consider continuing all the way to the destination (especially if the destination is Hong Kong).  Once an event has occurred and has been dealt with, we will communicate with the company and then make the best decision for the situation.  


Ok, so we are cruising happily along with all the house keeping done, and with good situational awareness as to where to go in the case of an emergency.  Here comes the boring part.  For the next several hours, the job basically consists of monitoring the radio and making frequency changes as we cross FIR boundaries.  Hourly, we make a fuel check to cross check flight planned fuel burn vs actual fuel burn.  The 747-8 typically makes gas on a long haul flight.  That is, burns less gas then the flight plan predicts so on our arrival, we have “made” more gas to use in the event of a diversion or holding time.  


Lets fast forward to the last 90 minutes or so.  Prior to the top of descent, we will review the planned arrival into our destination based on the latest ATIS for the airport.  Based on our landing weight, we assess our landing performance via a Landing Data request sent via ACARS.  A quick review of the aircraft status (in case any systems have failed or downgraded during the flight) and we are ready to descend and make our approach to landing.  


By this time, as the Second Officer, I am comfortably in my observer seat, watching the more senior crew do their thing.  Again I am an extra set of eyes and ears, and there for support.  Once on the ground and parked, its simple again for me as the So, put the documents away, file a bit of paperwork.  We leave the plane for customs, and hopefully without too much delay, we are on our way to the hotel.  Check in, receive our per diems, and get up to the room.  


That is all for this installment.  


Fly Safe.

Game Plan

A Day in the Life


After reading a few other blog posts related to the aviation business, I thought it would be fun (for me at least) to start a small mini series of “a day in the life”.  I would like to think there are people out there who are curious about the life of an airline pilot, both on, and off the job.  So what I have come up with is to write a series of posts on the following:


A day in the Life: Day Off – what does the typical day hold for an expat in Hong Kong?  What is different then home in Canada, and what is the same?  Just a few of the questions to be answered. 


A day in the Life: Time to go to Work – the job begins when I get to the airport, but the preparation starts hours earlier.  A daily routine before a long haul flight is very important and can make an all night challenge to stay awake, much easier if a few things are followed.  So before I even start thinking about work, there are some must do’s to prepare.  Then of course once I am in “work mode” I need to prepare for the flight of the day.  


A day in the Life: Layover – One of the several perks about this job is that we get to spend 24-48 hours or more in some amazing places that we might not get to see otherwise.  Virtually everywhere I have flown too has some unique experiences, so I will try and highlight some of these things in the various cities I have flown too.  Those cities include, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, Mumbai, Johannesburg, Anchorage, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.  I will also discuss the routine while away from home to make sure I am rested, and prepared for the long flight home to Hong Kong.


I may also include:

A day in the Life: Recovery Day – obviously after a long haul flight crossing many time zones, through all hours of the day or night, it can be a challenge to re-acclimatize to a “Hong Kong Body Clock”.  I will discuss some of my routines to help with this, as well as what I find works best when on a “super compact roster” where I return to Hong Kong with around 24-36 hours, before departing on another long haul flight.    


I hope this has some interest to some of my readers, and will be working on these posts over the next few days, so please stay tuned.  In the meantime, I hope everyone has enjoyed the Labour Day weekend in North America. 


Fly Safe