Chiming in on the Asiana Flight 214

Well yesterday was a sad day for many as we all heard news of the crash in SFO.  The first wind that blew my way about the accident was over Japanese Airspace at about 3:30am Hong Kong time.  I had departed Hong Kong just prior to midnight, and was lucky enough to have first rest on our freighter trip to Anchorage.  After a few hours of slumber in the bunk I jumped in the left hand seat to take over for the Captain who was now headed for a snooze.  The first officer briefed me as per the usual on the aircraft, and flight to bring me up to speed.  The next thing I know, Singapore Cargo Flight 2 was getting a re-route via Tokyo ATC.  I didn’t think much of that until later in the flight when we first looked at the ATIS for Anchorage.  “Ground stop in effect for all San Francisco departures”.  It’s 2013 so the first thing that crosses my mind is terrorism, followed quickly of course by, an accident.  It must be something major for a ground stop.  Although a brief check of the SFO weather confirms that fog/foul weather is not to blame.  So we pull up the SFO ATIS via the onboard ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) and discover that there are runway closures, and taxiway closures, much more then usual.  Having been to SFO just the day before, it seems obvious that something is wrong.  Maybe a disabled aircraft?  


Turns out the aircraft was much more then disabled.  When we got out of the aircraft in Anchorage, we soon rallied around our customs officer’s computer to see the news.  A crash.  A bad one by the looks of it.  Initial reports suggested an emergency prior to landing.  But after a quick search online upon reaching the hotel, it appears the accident WAS the landing.  A coworker had a link to the audio tapes and it appears nothing is wrong until the final seconds.  


Opinion time.  The weather, good.  The airplane, also appears to be fully functional.  What I do know 9again from having visited SFO the day before in our 747-400) is that Runway 28L had many closures to some of it’s normal navigation aids.  The Glide Path for Runway 28L was off the air, and approach lighting was also unserviceable.  


One way or the other, I believe that these two items, specifically the ILS glide path, will be found to have contributed to the accident.  There are other methods for vertical guidance in this situation, like a LOC/VNAV approach.  Where the aircraft uses the lateral guidance as received from a ground transmitter to direct it laterally to the runway centreline, but uses onboard navigation sources to determine the vertical path.  On a good weather day such as yesterday at the time of the accident, the operational difference would be little to none.  There are certain steps that must occur in the programming of this type of approach that would be different, and could ultimately lead to a mistake if it was something that the crew was not used to.  


There are also reports of the aircraft being too slow prior to impact.  What I do know of the 777 is that is is normally flown with the autothrottle engaged, whether or not the autopilot is flying.  So if a pilot has disconnected the autopilot to “hand fly” the autothrottle computer stays engaged and controls the speed.  Perhaps this was not functioning properly on Asiana flight 214, or perhaps as a result of improper programming of the approach, and being too high (also reports of being too high on the approach) the pilots elected to intervene and disengage the auto throttle (non standard).  


Like we see in many accidents, there are usually a chain of events that occur to lead to something like this.  If those things occur in a short period of time, they are also more likely to lead to an accident or incident.  


So my quick analysis is as follows.  


Routine services were not available for landing on 28L, which led to a “infrequently used” LOC/VNAV approach method for the crew.  The potential unfamiliarity with such an approach could have led to the mismanagement of the approach.  This mismanagement appears to have resulted in a speed issue – perhaps from being too high on the approach, which led to the crew disengaging the auto throttle.  This removed any speed protection offered form the onboard computers and resulted in a slow airspeed/low altitude situation. Too high, disengage the A/T and cut he power and push the nose down.  Perhaps too much so to overcorrect the high on the profile situation.  There was not enough time to recover properly from this and the resulting impact just short of the runway occurred.



Again, this is just my two cents, and will very likely be proven wrong.  Just hoping to open up some potential discussion amongst anyone who reads this (aviation experts or otherwise) as quite often an education can come from such discussions.  


Fly Safe


Sights from HKG-LHR

First we have Lantau Island with Hong Kong airport just visible.
Passing an Air France 777
Head on with a Cathay 747
Mountains of Western Mongolia
Forrest fires in Russia
Along side a Singapore Airlines A380 Super Jumbo
And finally waiting for our crew bags on the ramp in London before we board the bus for the hotel.








When Opportunity Knocks

Take advantage when opportunity knocks. Fair advice for young and old. What opportunity is knocking? Well on this particular day a few years ago, it was the chance for a couple of neighbors to put some old skills to practice.

It was christmas eve 2008, and I had just two easy trips to fly in the metro that day. As an extra bonus my First Officer for the day was my neighbor Dan from across the street. He and I carpooled to work in the morning heading to Norway House, about 300 miles north of Winnipeg, then a quick hop over to Cross Lake another 40 miles away, before returning to Winnipeg for an extra long lunch break.

It was a typical morning at Perimeter with the added plus of everyone being in a happy/festive mood. Dan and I had an easy trip in front of us, with no passengers for the return leg to Winnipeg, and only 2 on the way north. This meant we could take return fuel, which would help us get home even earlier to have a holiday lunch before our 3PM departure to Berens River. Climbing out of Winnipeg we noticed our cabin altitude increasing at a higher then normal rate. This is not uncommon for our fleet of old Metro’s as they have a rather “finicky” door system which often needed engineering attention to help stop leaks. We soon realized we would not be able to fly at our planned altitude of 20,000 feet as our cabin air would lack sufficient oxygen to breathe safely. With our high fuel load we were fine to continue the flight at 10,000 feet, burning about 25% more fuel an hour down low. It was an especially cold and clear day so flying lower offered an even better opportunity to sight see.

While north bound, remembering that we had no passengers on the way home, I ran some numbers to see if I could justify some fun on the way home. I called up flight services on the radio and cancelled my IFR (instrument) flight plan for the way home and re filed a VFR (visual) plan. My FO looked at me with some shock, as a 300 mph turboprop typically does not fly VFR, especially when I filed a cruising altitude of 700 feet above the ground. Opportunity was knocking and I wasn’t letting this one pass up. Dan quickly grew a smile on his face when I pulled out my VFR maps while we were letting the engines start in Cross Lake. I told him we were turning off all of our navigation radios and our GPS. We were doing this the old fashion way, looking out the window, estimating headings based on what we saw on the ground, and hoping that 350 miles later we would be near Winnipeg.

Of course I had been flying this route for years and was very familiar with the landmarks, but flying at 700 feet and 300mph does not offer much time to determine which landmarks we are looking at. That was the point, a fun challenge on Christmas eve. I told myself the extra fuel this trip required was the companies gift to us that year!

We departed and leveled off almost immediately at 700 feet, the metro reached that level quickly on an empty cold winters day. We zipped down a frozen lake Winnipeg at a 5 miles per minute clip, with nothing but our map hanging off the dashboard. When we reached the interlake region (back over land now) we joked about someone on the ground shoveling his driveway thinking “what the hell is that noise” just before turning around and seeing us two grinning fools whip over his head. We continued all the way to CYWG never drifting more then 1.5 miles off track (yes we did turn the GPS on every little while to see if our map reading skills were as good as we thought).

When we called up Winnipeg tower we asked for a quick lap over downtown to check out the Christmas decorations. They obliged (must have been in the Christmas spirit too). When we landed I thought what a fun way to start the day. This was something I was known for at Perimeter, taking advantages of opportunities like these when they come knocking. Hey, you only live once right?


Where does it end?

So its been a busy few weeks since I was a part of jethead’s interview and podcast. I have just finished my line check with my new airline and can start to settle into the routine of flying the 747. There has been something I have wanted to write about for several weeks now, which I unfortunately had to put on the back burner until the check was out of the way. So here it is. I recently read an article online (linked below) about a Boeing test plane powered by Hydrogen. Have a quick read.

When I read this the first question that came to mind was, where will technology take us by the time I retire? Then I asked, how far have we come since my grandfather took to the skies in the 1930’s?

The first airplane my grandfather flew for Trans Canada Airlines in 1937 was the Lockheed 10A Electra. It weighed a mere 12,500 pounds. The same airplane Amelia Earhart attempted to fly around the world in. It held 10 passengers and could fly for no more then a couple hours at barely 150 miles per hour. I recall my grandmother telling me several times it used to take him a day to fly to Toronto from Winnipeg, with three fuel stops in Northern Ontario. A day to rest, and another day to fly home. Ironically I am on the same type of patters today, except I am traveling from South East Asia to Europe.

The equipment in these old piston airliners of the 30’s was not much more then a morse code signal being broadcast with poor range, and based on the letter you heard, you would know which side of the intended airway you were on. When my grandfather retired in the jet age he was flying the classic Douglas DC-9. He was able to fly to Toronto in the morning and be home for lunch. With much better equipment on board.

My dad entered the airline world on the first turboprop aircraft ever put into airline service, the Vickers Viscount. For it’s day, a terrific airplane with good range, carrying 44 passengers and great engines in the Rolls Royce “Dart”. The viscount flew about 275 miles an hour. The equipment was more modern, cockpits remained cluttered with hundreds of guages. But fast forward 40 years and retire on the 747-400. Glass cockpit, ultra long haul range with 400 plus people weighing 875,000 pounds.

Today I fly the same plane, as our airline approaches retiring this fleet that is almost 25 years old. I think, if all we have done is get bigger, and fly further and faster, what will I retire on? Safe to say The world is much different then it was. We seem to be shifting away from “bigger is better” (despite the advent of the super jumbo A380). The majority of aircraft orders are for twin engine fuel efficient aircraft with excellent range.

That’s where the article caught my attention. Hydrogen powered aircraft. The exhaust of which is water vapour. When you stop and think about this, its truly unbelievable. The list is long of the damages vehicle exhaust has done to our planet and our atmosphere. But imagine a world where the biggest concern vehicle exhaust is higher relative humidity! Now I am sure the environmental effects of that much water vapour being poured into our atmosphere are huge, and I’m also sure people smarter then me have been researching this for years now.

When I look back again at what my grandfather flew in the 30’s and where aviation was then, it was more or less a time when a jet engine was still an idea. It wasn’t until the German’s in late WW2 finally flew a jet powered aircraft. So if my grandfather lived through all of those technological changes, what will I live through? It is a very interesting thing to consider, that perhaps my last flight will be in an airplane that will only leave a trail of water vapour behind it.



Like Father Like Son

Normally when the phone rang and I saw it was my Operations Manager at Perimeter Aviation, I usually debated answering the phone. Was I in trouble? Can’t think of anything I’ve done lately to piss management off. All kidding aside a call from the Ops Manager was usually related to something unusual at work. An incident that needed follow up, a charter that needed discussing before it departed to somewhere other then the usual destinations. Today was no different, something unusual. My Ops Manager called and asked if I could do a non revenue trip to God’s River Manitoba and take our “jack of all trades” Derek up to transfer fuel from our holding tank, to our pumping tank. Of course I was fine with that, I enjoyed flights that broke up the routine of the scheduled service we provided to 20 some destinations in Northern Manitoba. However there was an extra request from management that day, would I mind flying alone? We were short first officers at the time, so I wasn’t overly surprised by the request. However without hesitation I asked if I could bring my own first officer. Trevor knew who I meant and was the kind of manager that despite a grey area in the rules regarding this one, knew it was a great opportunity for a family of pilots to do something special.

So the next morning in the frigid February that Manitoba is known for (-40 this particular morning) I went to work with my dad. Kind of like take your kid to work day, but the exact opposite. I did the usual flight planning and talked to Derek to see how much gear he had to take with us. Then my dad and I got the heaters out to the plane and started to warm the frozen Merlin up. We were flying a long bodied merlin to be precise, configured for Cargo with a few jump seats in it. So there was more then enough room for the three of us and a few hundred pounds of cargo, as well as fuel for the return home, something that was rare, and a nice treat to not have to refuel the plane up north where it was even colder.

I asked my dad what he wanted to do, fly, work the radios, a bit of both. So we decided that I would takeoff and he would handle the radios out of Winnipeg (an airport he spent 20 years flying from for Air Canada). We were operating under my charter number, Perimeter 947 (all of our charter numbers started with 9, i chose 47 for obvious reason, my lifelong dream to fly the 747).

When we got airborne my dad out of 40 years of habit contacted departure as “Air Canada 947”. I guess when you start every radio call for a 40 year career with “Air Canada” it’s tough not to say it when your finger keys the mic for the first time in a while.

My dad took control for a bit in cruise, and despite complaining about the noise (the merlin is one of the louder turboprops around, and much louder then the passenger friendly 747 he flew last) we were having more fun than I thought possible. We were both smiling from ear to ear. The weather in God’s River was overcast at a few thousand feet, so nothing more then descending to a 25 mile safe altitude and joining the circuit would be required for our arrival.

My dad again doing the radio work in the uncontrolled environment of northern Manitoba, struggled between Air Canada and Perimeter. I had been a Captain for more then a year at this point on the metro/merlin fleet, so I was comfortable in my chances to show my dad my skills landing this plane. The runway had a light dusting of snow, which helps in creating a cushioning effect when touching down. I saw there was a couple of knots crosswind from the left, and managed to gently touch the left main wheel, followed by the right, holding the nose off while I applied reverse thrust to help slow down, and around 70 knots, gently letting the nose wheel onto the snow covered grave runway. My dad and I were still smiling.

We helped Derek with the fuel for a while, and had a laugh that our two tank years supply for gas in God’s River was about 3/4’s of what the 747 held with full fuel tanks. We have up to 5 airplanes a day take fuel from these tanks, albeit a couple hundred liters at a time. But it was still interesting to figure that a years supply of fuel for a our fleet was barely enough for a 747 to cross the pacific.

After some hot chocolate and a quick warm up in the terminal building the three of us set for Winnipeg. My dad and I decided he could land when we got home, landing a turboprop is something he hadn’t done since 1967. Having never flown a metro/merlin before, it can be a handful. But to no surprise, and only after letting my dad know the flap and gear speeds, he did a better job then most of the FO’s I fly with who have been flying that plane for a year or more. I guess hands and feet don’t forget how to fly, and 40 years of practice sure helps. He looked at me and said “that sure was fun.”

This was a flight that I will never forget, it was something my dad or uncle never got to do, fly with there dad, so I know how special it was for our family. I am sure I will never fly with a First Officer again that has the experience mine did that day. If I learned anything from that flight, it’s the importance of taking something memorable or fun from every flight. It doesn’t have to be once in a lifetime event like this particular day, but as long as I can walk off a flight and think, “that sure was fun” I know I will have a good career.