Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A pic of an instructor-station panel in the Citation 550 Simulator at FlightSafety Toledo.

•Lucky you, today is your annual checkride on the jet. You have been studying aircraft systems for weeks and have just finished up the training program at FlightSafety International, sweating in the simulator while the instructors tried their very best to put you 6 feet underground rather than 35,000 feet above it. You survived their sadism and got them to recommend you for the checkride, so the hard part is pretty much over already.

•If you pass your checkride, I will renew your instrument rating and your Pilot Proficiency Check, which will let you fly in cloud and also charge people money for your pilot services on the jet.

•We meet just inside the main doors at FlightSafety and head to an unused classroom for the ground-briefing part of the checkride.

•I have already gone through your flight training records to make sure that all the required training items are covered and that there aren't any nasty paperwork surprises that could derail the entire checkride before it begins.

•When we sit down I take care not to sit directly across from you - instead I sit next to you, which is less confrontational and more reassuring. Then I start to go over my briefing, which I am recreating for you now. Notice also that I never, ever say "Fail" or "Test" when referring to the checkride.



•How are you doing? Did you sleep okay? Are you feeling well? Did you manage to get a quick bite to eat? I can wait a few minutes if you'd like to load up on a bagel or muffin. Are you sure? So, are you ready to do battle with the sim?

First of all, this is going to be a walk in the park. The standards are no tougher than the ones you have already shown you can meet. The training you have been doing for the past few days is a lot more difficult than this ride, and it will probably be anticlimactic for you.

•In training you had multiple emergencies, one after the other. During the ride we will NOT have multiple unrelated emergencies, and we can go at a much slower pace. Additionally, if you would like some extra time during any part of the ride, just ask for vectors or a hold to give you as much time as you need before moving on to the next phase of the ride. It looks good on you to ask for extra time rather than rushing through anything. We have the sim all day, and there are no outside time constraints. We will try to keep the ride as real-time as possible, and I will attempt to avoid artificial repositioning. If we do end up repositioning the sim, take as much time as you want to get re-oriented before continuing with the required items on the ride.

•From time to time you may notice that I’m writing things down during the ride. My writing things down does NOT mean that you have screwed anything up; I could be writing good things as well as things to bring up during debriefing.

•During the ride you may think you have messed something up. As long as the sim is still going, the ride is still going, so try to put any perceived errors out of your mind and move on to the next phase.

•I have prepared a weather package as well as an outline of required ride sequences. The weather during the ride will be at or below the minimum weather required for the approaches being conducted, and I will make sure the simulator is set for the correct weather. Just like real life, if you see the runway environment on an approach, then LAND! Otherwise, conduct a missed approach at the appropriate time.

•We will be doing the ride in this general order:

•We will do at least 1 normal takeoff, 1 crosswind takeoff and 1 rejected takeoff. We will do at least 1 hold, and at least 2 approaches. One of those approaches will be an ILS. We will be doing at least 1 normal landing, 1 cross-wind landing, 1 rejected landing (with missed approach) and one single-engine landing. During your ride we will also be experiencing some abnormal operations and emergencies, and you will have at least 2 engine failures. Also in the mix will be your required RVR1200 (1/4 mile) low-visibility items, including a rejected takeoff at RVR1200 and an RVR1200 V1 engine cut. Some of these items may be combined. As per CASS 724 Schedule 1, I will not be requiring you to demonstrate steep turns or stalls, assuming you have met the other requirements of CASS 724. Have you met the requirements? (check for signed letter from sim instructor testifying that candidate is proficient in steep turns / stalls).

•You will be evaluated according to the Aircraft Flight Manual, Aircraft Operating Manual, Pilots Operating Handbook, Canadian Air Regs section VI and VII, your Company Operations Manual, your company Standard Operating Procedues (SOP's) and any other applicable documents.

•You will be expected to control the aircraft within the performance criteria listed in TP 14727 Pilot Proficiency Check and Aircraft Type Rating Flight Test Guide (Aeroplane). Are you familiar with the Guide? (If not, then provide a copy of the guide to the candidate and go over the relevant performance criteria for the relevant PPC exercises to be demonstrated that day.)

(For readers of the blog, typical performance limits are things like maintaining altitude within 100 feet, heading within 10 degrees and speed within 10 knots while dealing with whatever emergencies I throw at the candidate)

•Use as much or as little automation as you are comfortable with during the ride - I expect you to use the autopilot and/or FMS just like you would in the real airplane.

•Fill out paperwork, including PPC Form 0249E

•Do you have any questions so far?

•We will try to keep the ride as realistic as possible. The Pilot Flying (Captain) is generally expected to initiate the response to an emergency, but there are 2 crew on this ride, so help each other out as you would on a normal flight in real life and you'll succeed together. Operate according to your company SOP’s and your emergency checklists. If you see a fault, assume it’s real unless otherwise advised. If it’s a sim fault I will inform you immediately. If it's a fault caused by an incorrect or inappropriate action or response to an emergency, I will not correct it. Again, don't rush! If you require more time to complete a checklist or briefing, ask for a hold or extended radar vector and I will accommodate as much as possible.

•When we get into the sim, you don’t have to wear the headsets there, but to keep it as realistic as possible, I’d like you to tune the radios. I will act as ATC, Ground Control, Dispatch, Maintenance and any/all other entities you might interact with. I also do want to hear all the radio calls that you would normally make. Here’s an alcohol swab to wipe out the oxygen mask so you don’t get the plague from the previous candidate.

•If you have any questions about anything, feel free to ask. During the ride, if you have any questions about a clearance, a ride sequence, or want to clarify anything I have said that might be confusing, please ask.

•I know it’s easy to say, but do your best to relax, and take your time.

•Do you have any more questions before I ask you a few questions about the aircraft?

Friday, March 20, 2009

A phone call a little while back went something like this:

"Hey there Sulako, it's your friendly neighborhood Transport Canada Inspector."

"Ack! Umm, I mean Howdy."

"It looks like you are scheduled for a program validation sometime soon. Let's set one up."

//I take a moment to compose myself so my voice doesn't squeak.

"Okay. A program validation then. What is that? It sounds like an audit."

"No, we don't do audits any more, we do program validations. Basically we validate your SMS. Mostly by auditing you, as it turns out."

//I could hear the grin in his voice, matching the fear in mine.


"Even better Sully, it's a new kind of process and you guys are actually the first ones who will get to go through it."

"#%&@ my life."

"Sounds good Sully, see you next Tuesday at 8am."

Now it's kinda true - there is a difference in what Transport is looking for now when they show up at our office. Before when we'd get audited, they would show up and ask to see all our flight records. Then they'd randomly pick a pile of records and go through them to make sure all the paperwork was 100%. They'd spend hours checking our pilot exams and our flight plans, and poring over our weight and balances to make sure we weren't attempting to put 20 people into 10 seats and whatnot.

Now, the emphasis has changed to SMS, which stands for Safety Management System. It might look subtle, but to me it's a dramatic one. As an operator we are now being asked to put the systems in place to oversee ourselves, and a program validation checks to see if they are working.

For example, instead of being asked to show flight plans for flights, we are asked to show how we know the flight planning software is accurate and up-to-date. Instead of checking our pilot exams to make sure they are all filled out and haven't lapsed, they ask us what system we have in place to make sure all our exams are current and correct. For maintenance, instead of double-checking all our logbook entries for mistakes, they might ask how we intend to find any mistakes we make before they cause any harm.

The intent of this is to have operators regulate themselves - if an operator has a good SMS (safety management system) in place and they follow it, in theory Transport Canada should never have to step in and violate them for anything. Now I totally understand that this is a good idea, but in practice there is a pretty big weakness.

The weakness is that some operators tend to push the limits of safety in pursuit of money. Suppose a shady operator has all the required paperwork in their Ops Manual to indicate that they are perfectly capable of finding and fixing any safety deficiencies on their own. That's great, but what if they don't actually abide by the Ops Manuals? What if they consistently ask their pilots to fly overweight or for illegally long periods of time etc? If an operator doesn't want to address safety concerns then they will be pretty much on their own until something bad happens, like a crash.

Now I'm gonna sound all pompous here for a second, and I apologize in advance. In our operation, safety is a lot more important than money, and money is still pretty important. SMS will work for us because we genuinely want to minimize risk in all phases of flight, and we are willing to spend money to do so. But our situation is unique in that we have the luxury of being a financially secure flight department, and most operations depend on outside revenue for their survival. For those operations, this is going to set up a conflict of interest, where the same people pushing pilots will be responsible for overseeing themselves to make sure they don't push pilots.

It will be interesting to see how the shift to SMS turns out in Canada, and it'll take a few years before we have a better idea.

Anyway, the result of the conversation I had with the Transport guy was a morning spent with him going through a big long checklist and going through our Ops Manual to make sure we had each and every item on the checklist identified and addressed, like "In your Operations Manual, where are the procedures to ensure the flight crew are advised, prior to dispatch, of any aeroplane defects that have been deferred, (by Minimum Equipment List or any other means)".

Hooray! Our paperwork was perfect and we have everything that Transport wants to see, so I get to keep my job, at least until the next validation. A validation where they audit our self-auditing process to make sure we are auditing our audits in an appropriately audit-ful way. I certainly feel validated, don't you? :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Paddy's Day! May all of your avgas 100 be a bright shade of green!

This is a rapping flight attendant who is actually pretty great. I'm going to have to do up my passenger briefing in hip-hop format soon.

Lots of new stuff going on lately - I still have my job, which is pretty unusual in this economic climate. Fortunately for me, our parent company is doing pretty well (alternate energy appears a recession-proof industry) and they continue to pay us, so that's nice.

I did my recurrent PPC ride last week as well as got my ACP (Approved Check Pilot) certification done, which means I will be able to conduct flight tests on other pilots and give IFR ratings and type ratings on the Citation 550 jet. It took a hell of a lot of work, but I'm doing up a few posts relating to that and will happily explain in painful detail shortly.

I'm inspired right now so I'm going to work on an upcoming post or two, then hit the pub and get my Irish. My last name is in fact Murphy, so I figure it's a good enough reason ;)