Monday, 22 July 2013

Anyone still read this?

Fear not, I am alive. I think. Does anyone still read this blog?

Saturday, 12 February 2011

You can't cheat time...anymore

Not so long ago, I, with the help of friendly captains, used to be able to do weird and wonderful things with time. Time wasn't fixed, it was flexible. Together with the right crew, we could create periods of time that never previously existed, and delete bits we didn't want others to know about. No, I haven't quite lost my sanity or turned into The Doc from Back to the Future, but just feeling nostalgic and recalling some memories from the older days.

However, the computers have ruined it for us. No longer can we work together to cheat the clock, for the clock sets the rules and requirements, and if we don't adhere to them then questions are asked. Questions from those above who wear suits and have never seen an aircraft apart from the one that rests upon the table in reception at Airline X HQ. Everyone knows how serious airlines are about punctuality, and now it really is right down to each minute and everyone falls silent when they hear the word ''delay.''

Let me take an example of what I mean. Not so long ago, an aircraft would arrive on blocks behind schedule at 1600. The minimum turnaround time would be 35 minutes for the aircraft, so as the clock strikes 1635 it should be offblocks. It's perfectly achievable in 35 minutes, MOST of the time. However, things have a tendency to go chaotic very quickly. There are so many links in the chain that the aircraft is relying on, that just one kink in it can end up delaying everyone and thus the turnaround.

Now let's say it has been a bad day, 35 minutes wasn't achieved and the aircraft actually goes offblocks at 1640. That's 5 minutes of a delay that has to be accounted for, whether it be down to crew issues, technical reasons, passenger handling etc etc. Generally, the airline will want the head of whoever caused the further delay on a stick!

But then here is where the magic came in. The aircraft was actually offblocks at 1640, but if we're at a down route station where the airline doesn't have any officials overseeing the operation, how are they to know what time it actually departed? They only know what time it departed from the times I pass onto them, and then eventually from the paperwork the crew file after each trip. So Captain A and I would work together and say the aircraft was offblocks at 1635. People in Airline HQ are none the wiser. And no one really takes any notice if there is 10 minutes between offblocks and airborne time, or if there is 15 minutes between offblocks and airborne time, so the 5 minutes we covered up is magically transferred into taxiing time and waiting for departure.

I liked to think of it as working together with the crew. Some days, my company would make mistakes and cause a delay, other times the crew would be late to the aircraft and cause delays. In either case, we'd both be chewed by our managers and the airline itself. As such, some days we would help cover them and in turn they'd have cover up our mistakes the next day. Similarly, if an aircraft was late on stand and we already anticipated it becoming chaos and not achieving the min turn time, we could start cheating early and round-up the onblocks time a few minutes to buy us some extra time.

Unprofessional? Perhaps. But for the most part we can no longer do it. The latest craze with airlines is a computer reporting system known as ACARS, or Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System. The days of cheating time are over. It logs everything automatically and sends it back to Mother HQ before we even get our hands on the information. The touchdown time, onblocks time, offblocks etc are all detected and sent off via radio to HQ so we can't edit times anymore.

It also logs the doors closed time on some aircraft. For if it was still late offblocks, we could have lied through our teeth smiling and said it was ready on time, but was delayed in moving off stand due to a magical reason that every dispatcher will have fallen back on at some stage in their career, Delay Code 89 - Restriction at departure aerodrome. This was generally another aircraft pushing back on an adjacent stand that prevented ours from moving. So the reality was there was some delay in the turnaround, the doors were closed late by a few minutes but we'd lie and say it was ready on time but Airline Y, the enemy, was pushing or arriving on an adjacent stand and thus we were off blocks late. But now with -ACARS, Airline X knows the doors were closed late, and won't accept our excuse! It's a case of there's no hiding anymore.

I fear I may be shot for revealing such information. Many of you will have some sort of timing card for work that you swipe on arrival and when leaving work, and there is no way of cheating it. In days of old, it may have been a sign-in book where you had to write you're time, so you could cheat. Airlines have gone the same way, and now every minute is recorded.

Any questions?

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Making a return?

Hello to anyone who still actually checks this...

To cut a long story short, with the way things were going in aviation I decided to take a career break shortly after my last post in August 2009. Since then I have done other things,went travelling, tried my hand at a few other things and now made a return to the industry.

I checked my email account only recently and discovered e-mails from readers asking for me to keep it going and start re-posting, so having given it some thought, I think I shall try and get back int it.

So with any luck I'll have a few posts on the way soon. Anyone any questions for suggestions for topics?


A belated Happy New Year to you all
Dispatcher

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Paper Trail

The busiest parts of the summer are already over, and things have quietened down into a more acceptable pace.

I had always planned to do a short post about some of the paperwork involved with each flight from my side of the operation, but now seems the perfect time since Kent Wein has just made a posting about it here; Cockpit Chronicles: Paper makes an airplane fly and Captain Dave's quote at the minute is Donald Douglas,' "When the weight of the paper equals the weight of the airplane, only then can you go flying."

There are various bits of paperwork I have to complete before each flight can depart, some are for my company's use, some are for the airlines' uses and others are legally required documents for each flight. A lot of this is printed on dot matrix printers and telex rolls.

Let's start by talking about the movies, you know the ones involving aviation and it pains you to watch because of the absurdity of it all. Anyway, how many times have you noticed the cabin manager/purser consult the passenger manifest looking for a doctor onboard, or a pilot, of a marshall etc? In my experience, I have never seen any passenger manfiest give anything more than a passengers name, sex and seat allocation and maybe some other supplementary information if they have a medical condition or vegetarian etc. I have never seen anything relating to their occupation or qualifactions. Yet.

When everyone is checked in for a flight, the passenger manfiest or list is printed out, usually on two or three ply carbonated paper. I generally retain one copy to keep with my paperwork,and the rest is handed to the cabin manager for their information and is also possibly required at the destination depending on customs and immigration.

With a widebody flight and maybe 300 passengers, this list can end up being around 5 to 6ft in length so its always a challenge trying to fold up it up into some sort of tidy format that the crew can make sense of. Though imagine trying to do this outside in the wind and rain when you're in a rush, and it quickly becomes a ball of mushy paper.

I've previously talked about the loading of aircraft and how they have to be loaded in specific ways to ensure they remain within safe operating limits. We get this information from a Loading Instruction, another piece of paper specific to each flight that tells us where to load the bags and cargo on each aircraft. It's one of the legally required documents, and has to be signed by the loading agent and kept to, and any deviations from it have to be noted.

This leads onto the next piece of legally required paperwork that the pilots require, detailing the weight and balance of the aircraft. It contains information about the weight of the cargo and bags, hows it's distributed in the holds together with a breakdown of the passengers' weight and distribution, and the aircrafts' operating weights and how it trims. The captain of the aicraft has to sign a copy of it to accept it, and a copy is retained on the ground in our records. Different airlines call this piece different names, and each have their own variation on what's required depending on the aircraft type.

Other pieces of paperwork I have to fill out relate to the bags and cargo being carried onboard the aircraft, and that it has been screened and accepted for carriage according to government regulations and then the airlines' regulations. I also have paperwork that has to filled out during the turnaround that later helps determine what caused the delay if any.

The crew will also pass me pieces of paperwork that they are required to complete, such as security forms, crew names or customs paperwork for incoming cargo or passengers. All of it has to be kept and compiled together to be kept on record for a length of time that escapes me right now, but generally it lies undisturbed for many many months in dark bunkers...

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Slot City

I'm on the 4th of 6 early starts. Each day I'm awoken from a deeper sleep by the alarm clock at o'dark hundred and each day the disappointment gets greater and greater as I realise I am actually working, rather than forgetting to turn the alarm clock off or it being a bad dream.

It's a case of dej√° vu each morning, the quiet roads on the way to work, the same aircraft sitting awaiting departure each morning, and equally unfortunate bleary eyed crews turning up and exchanging sympathies about how many earlies we're doing. Greeting most pilots in the morning, after the usual mutual moaning of fatigue the next question is always 'Is there any slot?'

Early morning is a busy time for both airports and the airspace around them. With a wave of departures all wanting to leave at the same time and follow the same pieces of airspace to the same destination, or destinations close by, their flow has to be regulated. That's where the black art of slots come into play in Europe.

I don't work in flight planning ops or air traffic, so the following simplified explanation will probably leave some banging their head and comparing me to an uninformed journalist trying to report on some minor aviation incident, but alas, I'll have a go.

Each flightplan filed in Europe goes through a computer known as CFMU, or Central Flow Management Unit. I imagine it as a massive super computer stored in a darkened room with it's own micro-climate, with many operatives nurturing it and keeping it happy. In return, it will crunch many numbers and try and attain the most efficient use of airspace around Europe, keeping things moving and preventing bottlenecks at busy spots. To attain this regulated flow, it devises a time for each aircraft to depart/arrive/pass overhead a point, and this results in a Calculated Take Off Time, or CTOT. Since modern flight planning is so precise, sectors of many hours can usually be accurate to a minute or so easily, it churns out a CTOT for a flight so that it should progress smoothly.

This CTOT, or slot as it's commonly referred to, is the time the aircraft should be taking off at. This puts added pressure on everyone, if the slot is missed it could be a long time before the flight gets another one. Although the CTOT is an actual time, there is a discretion of -5 to +10 minutes that provides a window that the aircraft can depart in. However, it's to be used only by the local Air traffic controllers, to allow them to work the aircraft into the flow of traffic on the ground, since it won't always be possible to have it at the runway at that exact time. For us the ground crew, we're working to get the aircraft off stand 10, 15 or 20 minutes before the CTOT, depending on the ramp traffic and taxi time.

So on any early morning, it's not unsual to have most of the departures having slots. This messes up the usual order of departures we would be expecting, as a flight due to depart at 0630 may have a slot of 0720, but a flight due to depart at 0635 may have a slot of 0642. It's also not unsual to have a slot that results in the aircraft having to depart the gate early in order to make it. Slots often tend to change as well, as the traffic flow changes. In the space of the hour leading up to departure, it can be common to have the slot to change three or four times, jumping forward or even backwards.


Finally getting around to taking a picture now and again, without giving too much away about where I work. Below is one I took recently, the panel located on the back of the nose gear strut of a 767. You can see some of the buttons I talked about in a post last year when discussing the headset conversation. Don't be tempted to push the large red or black button...unless you really need to! You'll just create endless amounts of paperwork for yourself, and a no tea and biscuits meeting with the manager.



The headset lead plugs into the jack on the bottom left, titled Flight Interphone. The wheel well light switch controls a light inside the wheel well so it can be easily inspected, and the switches relate to the APU, so that it can be shut down and the fire bottle discharged should anything happen.

2 earlies to go...then some proper sleep!

Friday, 12 June 2009

SITA Message Examples explained...

So despite the cryptic code, a few of you were able to decipher the bulk of the message which is more than I could do when I first started. Here's a quick explanation of the message examples I posted.

Starting with the departure message:

MVT
RAT0123/09.ECENZ.IST

AD1245/1253 EA 1559DUS

PX323

It's a Movement (MVT) message for flight number RAT0123 on the 9th of the month, aircraft registration EC-ENC, departing IST or Istanbul. The flight departed, as in off-blocks time or push back from the gate) at 1245z, and was airborne 8 minutes later at 1253z. It's estimated arrival time in DUS, Dusseldorf is 1559z, and it has 323 passengers on board.

The arrival message is pretty similar:

MVT
RAT0123/12.ECENZ.IST

AA1340/1354

SI NIL


It's a movement for RAT0123 again, for the 12th of the month, aircraft EC-ENZ arriving at Istanbul. It touched down on the runway at 1340z, and was on blocks at 1354z. The SI section is for supplementary information. We might use it to explain there were no stands available upon arrival if there is a large interval between touch down time and on blocks time.


The Load message:
LDM
RAT0123/09.ECENZ.Y323.3/8

-DUS.161/119/43/19.T.9335.2/2105.4/5330 5/1900 PAX/323 B/8775 C/1450


It's a Load/Distribution message for RAT0123 on 9th month, aircraft again EC-ENZ, with a seating configuration of 323Y, Y denoting economy class. 3/8 is the crew configuration, 3 flight deck member and 8 cabin crew.

Destined for Dusseldorf, there are 161 males, 119 females, 43 children and 19 infants (yikes!) Some airlines rather than using males, females, children and infants will instead using adults, children and infants, in which case it would read -DUS.280/43/19.

In the holds, there is a total of 9335kg of cargo and bags.
In hold 2, there is 2105kg,
In hold 4, there is 5330kg
In hold 5, there is 1900kg
There are 323 passengers on board, and of the total load in the holds, 8775kg of it is baggage, denoted by the B/8775, and the remaining 1450kg is Cargo, denoted by the C.
If it were a multi stop flight, say continuing on to Heathrow, it would have another line beginning -LHR with similar information on the load destined for Heathrow.


Finally, the CPM.
CPM
RAT0123/02.ECENZ.31904H01

-11L/PKC/IST/630/C

-12L/AKH/IST/600/C

-41L/AKH/IST/620/C

-42L/AKH/IST/583/BC/BY0

-43L/DZH/IST/96/E/BY

-5/IST/50/BY

SI - TWO BABY-STROLLERS IN CPT 5

The anonymous reply to the first post mentioned when reading CPMs, they picture it as an aircraft, which is a good idea to help understand it. By now you'll probably now it's a CPM message for RAT0123 on 2nd of the month, aircraft ECENZ. The 31904H01
part I'm not actually sure about, usually it mentions an aircraft type but I'm not familiar with these numbers. Any of my readers able to educate me?

Referring back to one of my old posts about widebody aircraft and their loading, that will explain the hold positions mentioned in the CPM of 11L and container types such as AKE and ALF.

The CPM simply describes what is located in each position in the hold, a bit like a more detailed LDM. So for the example, in position 11L, there is a ULD container, type PKC, destined for IST weighing 630kgs and contained Cargo. Similarly, in 12L and 41L there two AKH type containers for IST containing 600 and 620kgs of cargo respectively. In 42L, there is another AKH container with 583kg of club class or business class baggage, denoted by the BC, and no economy baggage denoted by the BY0.

In most aircraft I have dealt with, if they have a hold 5 it tends to be a smaller bulk hold in the tail of the aircraft where crew bags will go or last minute gate items. In this case, there is 50kg of economy baggage, and the SI section explains that it is two baby strollers/prams/buggies, call it what you will, or I prefer dpierce's explanation of "a duo of infant conveyances may be discovered in the fifth of the aircraft's various and sundry compartments."

I'm not sure whether part of the CPM got lost in the formatting while posting, or whether the example just didn't have it, but it should have twice as many lines or at least be twice as 'wide,' listing the contents of the right hand positions in the aircraft, so 11R, 12R etc.

The more you work with these messages the quicker you become at reading them. On a busy day in work, messages like these will be pouring out of a telex printer constantly together with other types of messages. As such, unless you keep up with it you'll find yourself with 30 ft of paper to go through looking for the information you need and checking you haven't missed anything!



Tuesday, 9 June 2009

SITA Message Examples

After my last post, Wayne asked just how cryptic the SITA operational messages we use are, so here are a few examples of each type. I ended up finding these examples in a few online manuals after some googling as opposed using some from my own place of work, that would only give away my anonymity!

Starting with a departure message:

MVT
RAT0123/09.ECENZ.IST

AD1245/1253 EA 1559DUS

PX323


An arrival message:

MVT
RAT0123/12.ECENZ.IST

AA1340/1354

SI NIL


A Load Distribution Message:

LDM
RAT0123/09.ECENZ.Y323.3/8

-DUS.161/119/43/19.T.9335.2/2105.4/5330 5/1900 PAX/323 B/8775 C/1450



And finally, a Container/Pallet message:

CPM
RAT0123/02.ECENZ.31904H01

-11L/PKC/IST/630/C

-12L/AKH/IST/600/C

-41L/AKH/IST/620/C

-42L/AKH/IST/583/BC/BY0

-43L/DZH/IST/96/E/BY

-5/IST/50/BYSIT

SI - TWO BABY-STROLLERS IN CPT 5

Have a go at trying to decipher them, I'll post a brief explanation in a day or two. As a hint, RAT0123 is the 'fictional' flight number and EC-ENZ the registration of the aircraft, I haven't looked to see if it exists.