I apologise for the silence over the past two weeks but I've been kept busy, not with work, but other things. Hopefully I'll get a bit more writing accomplished over the next few weeks. Continuing on from my last post about walk around checks, this one will give you a little insight into what the guy wearing the bright luminous headset is doing during push backs.
So with my walk around checks complete I'll plug-in the headset so I can communicate with the crew. If it's familiar type like the A320 or 737s, I know where to find the plug. If it's something I'm not used to working with such as an ATR, I'll stumble about around the nose and gear looking for some sort of plug to connect the headset to because I forgot to ask the crew where it is when talking to them.
Once I'm plugged in, depending on the aircraft, I'll either give the Push to Talk (PTT) switch on the headset a click to let the crew know I am now ready when they are, or stand in their line of sight awaiting their call. For 737s, I can easily stand within the headset cable's extension and the first office or captains line of sight, as they sit much lower than the A320s. For the Airbii, I'll give a a quick mike click, as to see the flight crew I would need to move a considerable distance out from the aircraft stretching my precious cable. It extends to something like 12m when stretched but I never pull it this far as I don't fancy trying to recoil and carry 12m of cable away once finished.
Some aircraft have a Pilot or Flight deck call switch located next to the port for my headset, though I've never used it it. I figure the last thing they want is another ding or dong going off in the cockpit as they make the final preparation before push back.
Speaking of thee Pilot call buttons, I was almost caught out once with a 767. On the 767s I have worked with, the headset plug is located on the back of the nose gear together with some other buttons. Beside the headset plug is a LARGE RED button, and most, including myself would assume it is the flight deck call switch. Assume nothing. Experience has taught me flight deck call switches are located next to the headset plug, but equally experience has taught me not to push large red buttons unless I'm certain I know what they do. The red button is in fact an APU fire extinguish button. Press it and I'm sure you will get the attention of the flight deck, but more a long the lines of chronic swearing as they wonder why the APU has just died and the fire bottle discharged.
When the crew are ready, the First Office or Captain will speak to me on the headset, depending on company procedure, generally starting with,
"Cockpit/flight deck to ground, helloooo?''
I'll respond with a hello with more o's than his. Again, dependent on the airline procedure or the captain in question, he may well ask for my checks to which I reply that all the aircraft doors and hatches are secure, ramp workers and equipment is out of the way, the chox are removed from the wheels, and the steering by-pass pin and tug are all in place.
By this stage, he may already have his clearance from Air Traffic Control or ramp control, to push back. If so, he'll tell me they're cleared for push and start, together with which runway they'll be departing from. It's important I know which runway or taxiway he'll be taking after the push back, so as I leave him pointing in the right direction. So providing both parties are ready and clearance is received, I'll ask him to release the parking brake and wait until he replies with a unambiguous 'Parking brake released, cleared to push' message or words to that effect.
Ground to Flight deck?
We're ready for push back, release parking brake please.
Parking brake released, cleared to push for runway 30/taxiway Golf etc.. let us know when we can start engines
Ok pushing back, standby for start.
The aircraft is now 'in my control' through the tug. I signal to the tug driver the parking is off and we can push back, and through a series of further embarrassing hand gestures making me look like an 1980's dancer, tell him what direction to leave the aircraft facing.
So as we start moving back, I'll be on one side of the aircraft watching the wingtip making sure we don't hit anything, and a colleague will be on the other side doing the same. When it's safe to do so, I'll inform the flight deck they are clear to start engines and they'll let me know the sequence they are starting, such as no.2 first followed by no.1
Clear to start number 2 and 1 as you wish
Starting engine 2 then 1
As the engines start up, I'll observe them to make sure nothing out of the ordinary happens such as black smoke, or foreign objects being sucked into engine or fire. I believe there are still some airlines who require the person on the headset to be an engineer for the push back, but none that I deal with.
When we have finished pushing the aircraft and come to a stop, the tug driver will signal to me that he has set the brakes. I'll call the flight deck and ask them to set the aircraft parking brake again. Once I'm told it's set, we'll start disconnecting the tug, towbar and remove the pin from the nose gear. If all the engines have been started and everything appears normal by this stage, the crew will inform me I can disconnect, revert to hand signals and show them the pin.
I'll reply and tell them what side to look for us on for the hand signals, wish them well and disconnect myself from the aircraft. I'll then walk with my colleague to one side of the aircraft, my friend will hold up the steering pin he has removed, that has a large red flag attached. It tells the crew they now have steering control back, and I'll give a thumbs up signal followed by a wave letting them know we're all clear from the aircraft.
Ground to flight?
Push complete, set parking brake please
Parking brake set, 2 good starts, clear to disconnect and revert to hand signals, thank you
Ok watch for the pin on the left, good morning
I told you it wasn't exciting, but maybe the next time you're sitting at the gate and your companion asks what the guy on the headset is doing you'll be able tell them. However that's just in my part of the world and how we work, I'd be interested in what it's like elsewhere. Any input from crews on their experiences with ground crew and push procedures would be interesting.