Another long night…

by | 2019-12-24
A Boeing 747 over clouds
Racing on the North Atlantic.

You got yourself in flight planing early, snow was falling. Traffic was light, what do you expect on December 24, 19:30 showtime?

The weather briefing documents where all over the place. Progs and high level charts where a mess with no clear indications but rough conditions. The worst part was light winds.

At that time of day, you hope that all flights to be. No… Not tonight, it is going to be overschedule due to the absence of the normal tailwinds, never mind de-icing.

You make your way to the gate with your partner, respecting the mandatory stopover at the better coffee barista. Arriving at the flight deck, maintenance folks are in dealing with a problem with the air conditioning system. They need at least 30 to 45 minutes. Add the paperwork and your own stats, you double that time for the announced delay. Oh well…

Boarding is started nonetheless. Doors close 5 minutes passed sched departure: not bad. By the time you make it to the deicing bay, you are sched + 40 minutes. The aircraft that pushed just before you got a maintenance issue with their tug and was blocking the way.

De-icing went well as usual but by the time you are airborne you are an hour and 5 minutes late. The proverbial happens. Many flights were cancelled during the day, but thanks to excellent planing by the airline and timely finger freezing support by maintenance you and your colleague are going to get the passengers where they really want to be an hour and a half late for sure but that’s better than that lot you left behind.

The time comes for the oceanic clearance request to be sent. With no further due. Nothing. Computers unlike mechanical systems do not give out any clues of failure, no « clunk, screech or zeeezcrunch ». They just quit.

You check the ACARS printer, there is paper in there. Nah… you type anything on the scratch pad, nothing is accepted. You discuss with your partner to pick the clearance « the old fashioned way » with Gander clearance delivery. You just have to remember where to find it and which of the 12 frequency to use.

In the process, light to moderate chop begins. The charts at least did not show smooth conditions. That plan worked!

The clearance your colleague picked up took time to obtain. The controller was busy. About 150 nautical form the airspace the clearance is issued. It was not as flight planned and of course it was a random route off the tracks to the north. You both copied down the clearance. Of course in moderate chop, the resulting hieroglyphics were quite impressive you think. One day you hope to get down and work on the art of taking clearances like that chap on the other seat.

Procedures require that you call dispatch to get another flight plan but ACARS being on the fritz you could advise them on the satphone as you will but you still have to correct the flight plan by hand, re-enter with care the reroute in the FMS.

Flight conditions were not improving and service in the back end had to be suspended.

Some Christmas night… approaching oceanic airspace, the turbulence recedes for a good five minutes. What a break ! Hmmm, you contemplate on removing the seat belts sign. Then it hit, out of nowhere: one big bump, followed by nothing.

Wake turbulence, for sure. Both of you check outside then TCAS. Nope: no one around. Those charts were indeed a mess but that was different!

And then your colleague calls on your attention: « Check the groundspeed ». The anemic 445 knots was increasing rapidly to 570. No 610! Well As if that was not enough, the number stabilized around 695 knots. Really? More than 200 knots of wing in the tail pipes. Come on!

At this rate you would probably get 20 minutes ahead of schedule on the other side. In this business you take what you are offered. What the heck, the winds will drop off approaching Ireland as they normally do… You think. Yet unforecasted, certainly unusual, impressive winds and smooth air to booth. That was impressive.

Nobody on air to air frequency complaining about ride reports, nice change, you were able to take a coffee in a real business class mug (contrary to regulation). You all deserved it, was it not Christmas night?

You could observe to the left well developed northern lights. They were quite a sight. Further scanning, you then pick up a traffic. You call it to your partner: 

— Traffic at twelve.
— Nothing on TCAS

— Really? He seems to close in.

—You got to hand it to those LED lights, they stand out quite a bit more than old incandescents.

— Yep, he is westbound. At this time of day must be an executive.

— Can’t see him on TCAS.

— I have his anti-collision. Can you make put the position lights?

— Too fast, I missed that. It had to be a Global Express burning the same amount of fuel as us!

— Har, har: funny! No kidding, what was that? 

— Hey check it out, ACARS is alive… Finally.

— Message from crew sched, I suppose, it says « HO HO HO! ». 

— Cute.

— Oops, not crew sched… The SITA address is SNTACLS.

— How is out ETA?

— Holding at 15 minutes ahead of sched.

— No one is going to buy this!

Joyeux Noël à tous, happy holiday season to all.

Leave a Reply