Christian Larsson

Departing on time - a logistical masterpiece

Christian Larsson

01. Aircraft at gate

Behind the scenes Part 3

This far we know how a typical working day of an airline pilot starts and how PF brings the aircraft to life and prepares the on board computers for the flight about to be flown.

Departing on time is a logistical challenge and it involves quite a large group of people. Today I intend to describe, to the best of my ability and with help from a time line, what these people's tasks are, and when they need to perform them in order to achieve an successful turn-around...

On the subject I also recommend you to read Martin Trankell's post about a tight 25 minute turn-around from a pilot's perspective.

When the crew arrives at the aircraft (assuming that it is the first flight of the day or that we replace another crew), it can be anywhere between 40-25 minutes to departure. If it's not the first flight of the day, the door is usually open and catering staff is already running around replacing the service carts with new ones, filled with refreshments. Cleaning personnel is also on board, preparing the airplane for boarding. Sometimes you might even meet a mechanic who has been called out to look at a remark left by the previous crew. The gate staff is getting settled at the gate, making their preparations for boarding (Arranging passenger lists etc.).

We have ground staff refueling and loading the aircraft, one connecting the tow-truck to the aircraft, lots of people in the cabin, in addition to our own cabin crew, switching carts and cleaning the cabin, one of the pilots are on a walk around the airplane while the other prepares the flight deck, the gate is prepared...

The crew instantly starts preparing by getting rid of jackets and bags. While the cabin crew prepares the cabin for take-off, we pilots start of by screening the flight log. Are there any open remarks? if so - what is it? does it affect our operation?

Being acquainted with the airplane, the Pilot Monitoring (PM) goes outside for the walk around - an external inspection. While doing so, he or she will see that the ground staff is already well underway of off-loading the incoming cargo, or hopefully, already loading the departing, checked-in luggage. The agreed amount of fuel is communicated to the fuel guy, or gal, but on our destinations in Scandinavia, we use a digital system that orders the required fuel directly.

Meanwhile, I remain in the cockpit as Pilot Flying (PF), setting the cockpit up for the flight, making the required checks and programming the computers. From my previous post, you know everything about this already!

Phew, let's make a half time recap of what's going on so far: We have ground staff refueling and loading the aircraft, one connecting the tow-truck to the aircraft, lots of people in the cabin switching carts and cleaning the cabin (in addition to our own cabin crew making their checks), one of the pilots is on a walk around the airplane while the other prepares the flight deck, all while staff in the gate prepare for boarding the passengers. 




We use either a special "cut" frequency to communicate with the gate and ground personnel, or an app called GroupTalk which basically turns our iPads or smart phones into walkie talkies. Through that, the gate staff can communicate directly to us in case we need to accommodate any passengers requiring special attention e.g. people travelling in a wheel chair, infants, unaccompanied minors, deportees etc. As soon as the cleaning staff is done and the pilots give an all clear. the purser lets the gate know that we are ready for boarding and the rest you know!

As you can see, an aircraft departure or turn-around is a logistic masterpiece. And this post has only mentioned the people working in or around the actual airplane. Let's not forget the air traffic controllers, who clears us according to a specific departure route and along a filed flight plan. Or the flight plan office who together with a sophisticated computer has filed that flight plan in the first place. We have the operations office, which sometimes gets involved with coordinating functions that may get disrupted, or adjusting the departure time in case of a delay. In short, it's a remarkable machinery just to make a single aircraft ready for departure.

Next time...

Last, but not least, I have only briefly mentioned the external inspection, or walk-around. My next post will describe in more detail what we're actually looking at when we take our stroll around the airplane. I can assure you, it's not just about kicking the tires... >>Read it here<<

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