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...