Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Conga line

Done flying for the week. I was supposed to be waking up in a Holiday Inn this morning. Instead I'm on my couch as I have a union meeting today and was pulled off my overnight and remaining flights of my two day trip.

At major airports, approach controllers are tasked with sequencing arriving aircraft for landing. For the most part jet aircraft are spaced 4 to 5 miles apart. This allows aircraft of different sizes (say a 737 followed by a CRJ200 followed by a 757) to land on the same runway within 90 seconds or so of each other. I've seen 7 aircraft lined up at once for the same runway. Long finals.

Most of the time in VFR conditions we are assigned 170-180 knots to the final approach fix. This allows everyone to go fast to a five mile final then slow to approach speed.

Most of the time that works.

Every now and then someone screws up the conga line.

Someone slows to 150 before the final approach fix for whatever reason without notifying the approach controller. That causes everyone else to slow down early. The approach controllers smooth flow is interrupted. The aircraft being vectored in to get in line have to be resequenced and turned away. I've seen it where on a severe VFR day, being slowed 60 miles out.

Last night was one of those "turn left heading 270 slow to 190"....while being 50 miles from the airport.

The approach controller did their best. I was brought in higher than normal as the guy I was following was assigned 170 while I was assigned 190. The 190 was an attempt to clear the clog. Finally told to slow to 160 and cleared for the visual.

I could tell on TCAS the aircraft ahead was right at 3 miles away. I called for final flaps and the gear. The leading aircraft was also just 3 miles ahead of the aircraft in front of me.

When the first aircraft touched down the next was at 700 feet AGL. I was 1000 feet above him and 3 miles behind. I had to slow to 140 just to keep 3 miles.

"This is not going to work, one of us is going around." I told my Captain.

He agreed it didn't look promising.

I firmed up my hand on the thrust levers and reviewed the go around procedure in my head.

At 500 feet AGL the aircraft we were following was rolling out and slowing down.

Tower asked if they had the next high speed as there was an aircraft on short final.

They said they did, but seemed to be in no hurry.

At 300 feet they were angled off the runway about 2/3rds the way down. Just enough room.

Down and done. So I thought.

Being a ramper is not easy. I don't envy them. My airline is having an issue retaining rampers. I can see why as the pay is very low ($9 an hour) for the work required (lifting heavy bags in very hot and very cold weather, rain, snow and wind).

Last night there was a shortage. We were 5 minutes early but we had no gate. We got in line with 7 other aircraft waiting for gates.

It took 50 minutes. Flights were simply parking at whichever gate opened first. First come, first served is a double edged sword.

Flights get parked, but the aircraft are often not at the gate planned for that aircraft for the next flight. That means passengers, crew, bags , fuelers and more have to be updated.

Many times aircraft are routed to specific destinations for maintenance repairs overnight. Other times aircraft are routed based on MELs. For example an aircraft might have an inoperable APU and can only be sent to outstations with an external air cart.

Anyways it was a mess. I felt bad for the passengers as we went from 5 minutes early to almost an hour late.


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