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Friday, July 30, 2010

Sky High

New aircraft, great colors, but who really is up there, flying?

Dinesh Keshkar, the Senior Vice President, Sales; and President, Aircraft Trading, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, had talked of a severe shortage of pilots in India, while projecting a need for 4000-5000 pilots over five years. India was seeing the beginning of an aviation boom, with the promise for every Indian to fly, and every new airline to take wings. Five low cost airlines had been launched, most flexing their nascent muscles by ordering unfathomable number of aircraft. Jet Airways had gone international, and everyone was not only dreaming big, but talking big.

Vijay Mallya earned the title of “the Richard Branson of India” with the launch of Kingfisher Airlines, and his vision of making it the largest private sector airline. Kingfisher aimed at 55 aircraft in its fleet by the year 2010. Jet Airways had ordered for 30 jet airplanes, while the newly found low cost carrier Indigo Airlines had placed an order for 100 Airbus aircraft. The minister for civil aviation, Praful Patel predicted passenger numbers to touch 50 million in five years. Indian aviation was poised for a forecasted growth of 20% a year.

The potential for making a huge amount of money in aviation training saw multiple flight schools spring up, while those who wanted to take the easier way out tied up with foreign flying schools. All of a sudden, airlines were recruiting youngsters, sending them abroad for training under the candidates’ cost, and then absorbing them into the airline, after training them on aircraft in their fleet. Many wanted to be a pilot; the profession promising an exciting career, glamour, and heavy remuneration.

But all that was in 2005.

Five years on, the scene is a stark contrast to all the hue and cry made by “experts” and analysts in the industry. The heavily loaded torso of Indian civil aviation would have continued to glitter on shaky thin legs, had it not been for the global market collapsing. The banks collapsed, and then there was no money to lend. The hunky dory outer image of airlines was a shocking contrast to the dark corridors of their financial and operational conditions. While some airlines were being run and managed by those who had no prior experience in the field, resulting in some very poor decisions, other airlines hemorrhaged in the light of very stiff competition and rock bottom airfares. The blame on fuel prices inflicting financial wounds on the airline’s health was rubbished by Capt. Ranganathan, a high profile flight safety expert and captain with over 20,000 hrs of flying time. “Fuel prices went above hundred just for a couple of months, and it peaked to 145 dollars just for a week or so. If you take the average fuel prices for a whole year, they were much less than a hundred dollars.”

The numbers, in the pre-2008-2009 era, were astounding. Passenger numbers started rising, the number of hours annually flown by planes started rising, but one dim warning light kept blinking: the load factors.

From carrying a little over 16 million passengers in the year 1999-2000, of which 13 million were domestic travelers, airlines in India transported close to 45 million passengers in 2007-2008. The growth in passenger numbers was consistently well above 20% per annum, with the growth touching 41.7% in the 2006-2007 period over the previous year. The champagne bottles were being popped, but if one shifted their gaze from the passenger numbers to the load factors the warning could be seen: overall passenger load factors remained almost consistent at 68%, while the number of hours that aircraft were flying were continuously increasing, from over half a million hours in 2004-2005, to 1.2 million in 2008-2009. It was in 2008-2009 that, despite more hours in the air, load factors fell to 64.7%, and the number of passengers flown fell to 49.5 million from 53.5 million. The lull was here, and the bleeding continued. Pilots in Air India have talked of flying a Boeing 777 with a capacity of 440 passengers, to New York, with only 7 passengers on board.

“The whole collapse was because there was overcapacity. The regulator (DGCA), the ministry (Ministry of Civil Aviation), should not have allowed so many aircraft coming into the country when we did not have the infrastructure, and we didn’t have the passenger load for that. So every airline was killing each other by cutting the fares, by trying to pick up the load. And filling up the loads where your yield is low, is not going to bring you money”, said Capt Ranganathan at the Tenth Annual Regulators and Policy makers Retreat, hosted by Aviation Watch and IPPAI in 2009.

The collapse had an effect on aspiring pilots who earned their license, only to find 4000-5000 other fresh pilots like themselves hoping for a flying job.

Says Devaraj, a CPL holder who flew at Canada, where flying is not only slightly cheaper, but faster, “It really did affect me in terms of being discouraged by looking at the situation. My mental state was to do something to pay off the hefty loans that my dad took from several banks.” Flying at the premier flight school in India, IGRUA, costs a whooping INR 2.7 million, but the students were at least guaranteed placements at Air India. This was until last year, when the national flag carrier didn’t turn up, after mounting losses to the tune of INR 55.5billion in November last.

While Kingfisher presently boasts off 66 aircraft in its fleet, far surpassing Vijay Mallya’s goal of 55 aircraft, the avalanche of debt is not far behind. The Daily learnt of 15 of Kingfisher’s aircraft being grounded, due to the unavailability of spares, engines and lack of finances. With inside reports of hotels complaining of unpaid bills, clubbing of the captain and first officer in a single transport as opposed to the earlier exclusive treatment, and banks suing the airline for defaulting on aircraft payment, the “Fly the Good Times” doesn’t seem of much relevance now.

Says a frustrated Devaraj, “This airline purchased left, right and centre seemingly not caring about the future, but to expand and become a big one instead of choosing to make money.”

But airlines which have kept both their cool and their rationale seem to have either sailed the rough seas or surfaced from potential wreckage. Jet Airways posted a 2010 Q1 net profit of Rs 35 million, against a loss of INR 2253 million in the corresponding period of the previous fiscal. On the other hand, the 2008-2009 period saw Indigo posting a profit of INR 821 million. Careful planning and a tight control on costs seem to have kept the carrier afloat.

Halfway into the 2010 calendar, good news is breaking. Rising from the ashes are airlines posting profit, and advertisements for flying jobs on their websites. With Air India claiming to perform better, hopefully inducting the aircraft it had then planned to aggressively purchase, the 5000 CPL holders have a reason to smile. Even more with news of Air India losing pilots to age, DGCA coming down hard upon foreign pilots; Spicejet ordering 30 airplanes, Indigo recruiting pilots through CAE, Jet Airways calling for both ab-initio and type rated pilots, and Kingfisher calling back on line some of their pilots whom they had grounded : The much awaited dawn is here.

Data from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, DGCA, shows passenger numbers up from last year during the same six month period. With 25.7 million passengers flying in the first six months of 2010, and airlines on an expansion drive, the numbers could well surpass Praful Patel’s forecast.

 “When you talk of projections, you’ve got to have people who don’t use simple multiplication. You may have a good load factor, a good income this year, but that doesn’t mean that if you look ten years ahead, you just multiply that figure by ten”, says Capt Ranganathan, on the issue of forecasting growth in the aviation sector. “That’s exactly what they did.”


Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Airbus A320 family vs the Boeing 737 family: Who’s got the muscle?

Maybe a drama fit for the Godflyer, The Airbus A320 family and the Boeing 737 family are two airplane series vying for the same market:  The short to medium haul category. While the first aircraft is a “produit” of a European consortium, the latter is probably the anthem of the Boeing Company. As of today, which one of these two has a stronger grip on the Indian market?

Family first, numbers later.

The Boeing 737 family took off on the 9th of April, 1967, as the 737-100. Gradually, the aircraft grew, in technology and in size, to give birth to members Boeing 737-200/300/400/500/600/700/800/900. There have been variants within each member, and gradually the later members replacing the technologically outdated older members. Only the -600/700/800/900 members are in production, as the “New Generation” Boeing 737s.

No airplane has sold more than the Boeing 737 family has. As Boeing states, “The 737 family has won orders for more than 6,000 airplanes, which is more airplanes than The Boeing Company's biggest competitor [which we must read as Airbus] has won for its entire product line since it began business.”. Infact, data updated on the 23rd of May tell a greater story: There have been orders for 8337 Boeing 737 aircraft (since the program began), of which 6262 airplanes have been delivered. That’s an average of 194 aircraft ordered per year, counted from the first delivery.

Challenging the dominance of the Boeing 737 family, the Airbus A320 family took wings on the 22nd of February, 1987, with the Airbus A320, the first member of the family that has the same name as the family itself. The A320 family spun off new members: the longer A321, the shorter A319, and the shortest: A318. The Airbus A320 family heralded a new era of airplane control technology, with the implementation of the “fly by wire” technology for the first time, in a commercial airliner.

The Airbus A320 family has been, and is, Airbus’s best selling aircraft family. According to data presented by Airbus as on May 30th, a total of 6,546 A320 family aircraft have been ordered, of which 4,254 aircraft have been delivered. That’s an average of 297 aircraft ordered, per year, counted from the first delivery.

An insert here, based on a comment left by Andy (who flies the B757 /767) : The Boeing 737 NG (Boeing 737-600/700/800/900) series , which delivered its first of type (737-700) to Southwest Airlines on the 17th of December, 1997, has got an average order of 368.4 aircraft per year, counted from its first delivery.

Categorically, the Boeing 737-600 competes directly with the A318; the Boeing 737-700 competes directly with the A319; the Boeing 737-800 competes directly with the A320, and the Boeing 737-900 competes directly with the A321, based on the accompanying table.

Typical Passengers
Typical Range
Airbus A318
2780km- 3705km (HGW)
Boeing 737-600
2480km - 5648km (HGW)
Airbus A319
3391km - 6845km (HGW)
Boeing 737-700
2852km- 6037km (HGW)
Airbus A320
4843km - 5676km (HGW)
Boeing 737-800
3585km -5445km (HGW)
Airbus A321
4352km - 4907km
Boeing 737-900
3815km - 5083km (HGW)
HGW : High Gross Weight Version

Indian Scenario

There are no A318 or Boeing 737-600 in India. That leaves us with the A319/A320 and A321 to compete with the Boeing 737-700/800 and 900.

Boeing Aircraft
Airbus Aircraft
Aircraft data taken from DGCA, 28th May, 2010

Thus, in India,

There are 55% more A319 than Boeing 737-700.
There are 11% more A320 than Boeing 737-800.
There are 600% more A321 than Boeing 737-900.
There are 39% more Airbus A320 family aircraft than the Boeing 737 family aircraft

Airbus, hands down, has won the hearts of operators.

Operator’s keep:
NACIL (the merged entity of Air India, Indian Airlines, and Alliance Air), has 24 A319 aircraft (shown taking off to the right, landing gear up), while Kingfisher has only 4.

NACIL has 44 A320 aircraft (shown landing to the left, landing gear down), while both Kingfisher and Indigo, separately, have 24. Go Air lags with 8 aircraft.

NACIL has 20 A321 aircraft (shown landing to the right, landing gear down), while Kingfisher has only 8.

NACIL operates 68.75% of the Airbus A320 family aircraft that fly in India.

A win-by-wire for Airbus?

Capt AR, who flies the Airbus A330, and instructor on type had to say, "For one I believe A for Airbus and B for Boeing !!"

Countering that statement is Capt Andy's, "It's Boeing or I'm not going!"


Data : 
DGCA, Boeing, Airbus
Photos are copyright of the respective photographers as mentioned at the bottom bar.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Behind Mangalore’s mangles: Facts about the aircraft type, airport, human factors, rules, and previous crashes.

The fatal accident of Air India Express Flight 812 at Mangalore International Airport has jolted the Indian aviation community, mostly by the severity of the accident, and partly by the way flying operations into Mangalore has been portrayed. The inevitable speculations that is rife may be based on information that is either outdated, or in deviation from facts that got distorted or misinterpreted along the way.

The pollen of speculation has hampered the visibility of what truly matters: the analysis and determination of the sequence of events that had led to the crash, based on sources solid evidence, such as the Digital Fight Data recorder (DFDR) and the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). In the meanwhile, the author strives to put forth hard facts about Mangalore’s airport, provide an undistorted view of highly experienced pilots who fly regularly into Mangalore, provide an insight into human factors, and bring up from the past accidents and incidents that are similar to what was seen on the 22nd of may, 2010: a dark day in the history of Indian aviation.

Mangalore International Airport

Mangalore, a prominent city on the western coast of India, got its only airport in 1951, christened Bajpe Aerodrome. When inaugurated, only one physical runway of 5330 feet length and 148 feet width was constructed, running east to west up a small incline of 0.3°. The whole aerodrome is about 300 feet above mean sea level, constructed over what is known as a table top hill. Due to the small runway, only light to medium aircraft could fly into the airport, popular ones being the ATR-42, ATR-72, Boeing 737 series, and the Airbus A320.

The uniqueness about the runway is that valleys of 200 to 250 feet are located immediately beyond the ends of the short runway. More than bringing down the room for error, the presence of these valleys below the runway creates winds that vary abruptly, in direction and intensity, from the winds slightly higher up when approaching either end of the runway. Also present is a 6207 feet high mountain a little more than 20 miles to the east-north-east of the airfield.

Due to its short length, the airport was classified into a special category. Adding challenge to the approach, to some degree, was the winds.

The question that quickly arises is the performance of an aircraft on such an airfield. Boeing’s data show that a Boeing 737-800 (the same model of airplane as the one that crashed), landing at its maximum permissible landing weight, in standard atmospheric conditions and calm winds, can land to a full stop, under maximum wheel braking alone, within 3485 feet of the runway, as measured from the point when the aircraft was 50 feet above the runway. Astonishingly, for a landing speed just 5 knots (9.26 km/h) greater, under similar conditions as above, the landing distance increases by 215 feet.

In 2006, when a new runway was opened, the airport (for operations to and from the new runway) was pulled out of this special category. The new 151 feet concrete runway runs West South West to East North East for a length of 8038 feet. Similar to the shorter runway, there are steep drops on either end of the new runway.

A Boeing 737-800’s performance at Mangalore

While earlier in this article it was shown that a Boeing 737-800 can stop within 3485 feet under certain conditions, commanders who fly the same type of aircraft to Mangalore, for a private airline, state that with level 2 (out of 4 available levels) wheel braking intensity, 77% thrust reversers applied (the reversal of engine thrust to decelerate the aircraft), and landing with a 100% load factor (all seats occupied), a landing at 158 knots (292 km/h) on the new 8000 feet runway sees them with 2000 to 3000 feet of the runway still remaining, after the aircraft has slowed down to taxiing speed. Quoting the words of a 737-800 commander about a landing into Mangalore, “It’s just another ordinary landing, much like landing into Bangalore”

As for the wingspan of the Boeing 737-800, the maximum wingspan (for the variant which has winglets: upward bends of the wings to enhance performance: like the one that crashed) measures at 117feet and 5 inches. In comparison, the runway width is 151 feet, 34 feet more than the wingspan of the aircraft. Contrast this with Bangalore International Airport’ runway width, which stands at only 148 feet, while accommodating huge aircraft such as the Boeing 747-400, which has a wingspan of 211feet 5 inches. Concerns regarding the inadequacy of the runway width are unfounded; Singapore’s Changi airport has runway widths of 197 feet.

Accidents in the past:

While it is still unclear what caused the over-run of the aircraft at Mangalore International Airport, one fact still remains: the aircraft over-ran the runway. India and the world have been a witness to many such occurrences, most luckily non-fatal.

In its 59 years of operation, only one other accident had occurred at Mangalore, in the August of 1981. A HS748, flying as Indian Airlines Flight 557, “approached Mangalore and landed half way down the (shorter 5330’) runway (east facing). The aircraft overran the runway and nosed over into a valley and came to rest against two boulders with the nosegear collapsed.”

The probable cause of the crash was attributed to the pilot continuing the approach under deteriorating weather conditions, resulting in an unstabilised approach and a late landing at high speed.

In the October of 2005, a Sahara Airlines’ Boeing 737-400 over-ran Mumbai’s 11302 feet long runway by 160 feet. The runway was much longer than Mangalore’s, yet the incident occurred due to the pilot being high on the approach profile and landing 4000 feet past the runway threshold. There were no fatalities or serious injuries, and the aircraft ended up with its nose gear stuck into the mud of the level area ahead of the runway.

On the 8th of December, 2005, a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 was cleared to land on the centre runway at Chicago Midway Airport. The aircraft touched town on the 6522 feet long runway at 132 knots (244km/h), after eating up 2000 feet of the runway. Only 4500feet was left, and automatic wheel braking was selected to maximum. Only 18 seconds after touchdown were thrust reversers (devices that deflect the engine thrust in the reverse direction, aiding in aircraft deceleration) deployed, that too after the first officer noticed that they were not deployed. The airplane “departed the end of the runway, rolled through a blast fence, a perimeter fence, and onto a roadway”.

The probable cause of the crash was attributed to the delayed deployment of thrust reversers, and the pilots’ unfamiliarity with a particular system on board, leading to their distraction. It was also determined that contributing factors were the shortcomings in the airline’s training, and issues with the on board electronic computer in its use and critical information display.

On the 7th of March, 2007, a Garuda Indonesia Boeing 737-400, over-ran the east facing runway of the city of Yogyakarta (Indonesia) after a flight from the capital Jakarta. As per the report, the aircraft crossed a road, and impacted an embankment before stopping in a rice paddy field 826 feet from the other end of the runway. The aircraft was “destroyed by the impact forces and an intense, fuel-fed, post-impact fire”.

The cause of the crash was solely and without doubt attributed to pilot error. Due to non-compliance with procedures, the pilot landed at 221 knots (409 km/h), which was 87 knots (161 km/h) faster than the required landing speed with full flaps extended (devices which increase lift, allowing an aircraft to fly safely at lower speeds). The first officer sternly requested the captain to go around (abort the landing attempt, climb to a particular altitude, and come in for a second attempt at landing). The words of the first officer were not heeded to, and 21 of the 140 passengers on board lost their lives. This very aircraft had been used by Jet Airways between 1997 and 2002.

Human factors: Pilot fatigue and behavior

To ensure that pilots are not overworked, and are given adequate rest between flights, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) enforces flight duty time limits (FDTL). The DGCA, through Aeronautical Information Circular number 28/1992 states for international carriers that, “No air carrier may schedule a flight crew to fly in an aeroplane that has a crew of two pilots for more than 9 hours of flight time during any 24 consecutive hours without a rest period. Before a flight crew is detailed for a flight, his rest period since the last flight shall not be less than 18 hrs.” In addition,

“Flight time of a flight crew shall not exceed: i. 30 hrs in 7 consecutive days. ii. 125 hours during a period of 30 consecutive days. iii. 1000 hours during the preceding 12 months.”

While many pilots complain of actually being overworked, they admit to the fact that their concentration peaks during a take off and landing. As far as the effects of fatigue on good judgment go, “At some point it can have its effect, but then judgment is affected by so many factors of which fatigue is just a part”, says a highly experienced 737-800 commander who has flown planes in the Indian Navy and also has thousands of hours on the ATR-72.

Incidentally, the revised Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) for Flight Duty Time Limit (FDTL) of fixed wing flight crew members, issued on the 27th of July, 2007, has been kept in abeyance. According to the commanders talked to, an additional clause prohibiting flying on two consecutive nights was introduced. The keeping in abeyance of this CAR is seen by pilots as a move to block adequate rest for pilots, to ensure the optimum utilization of the pilot pool by the airline management, at the possible expense of an airline pilot’s performance.

As for behavioral aspects, the advisory circular 4 of 2009, issued by the DGCA, states that, “Accident histories have established that inadequate operational control and inadequate collaborative decision making have been contributing factors in air carrier accidents.” As seen in the crash of March 2007, the first officer requested the pilot to go around twice. Despite this, and warnings that sounded 15 times in the cockpit, the pilot elected to land in a configuration that is never used for landing. However, the report still pins a part of the blame on the first officer: “The copilot did not follow company instructions and take control of the aircraft from the pilot in command when he saw that the pilot in command repeatedly ignored warnings to go around.”

To emphasize and enforce the practice of crew resource management (CRM), for a safer flight through a collaborative crew performance, the DGCA advisory circular 8 of 2009 enforces CRM as the “effective use of all available resources: human resources, hardware, and information”. However, personal issues still do spring up on the flight deck, and good decisions or suggestions are at times ignored by the louder, stronger voice of the ego.

While every crash or incident that occurs in aviation serves to make flying safer, it is beyond control when failures, technical in nature, or forces, beyond the control of the industry, contribute to accidents. For the other aspects well within our control, it’s the policy makers and airline managers who take the blame at some point, through decisions that affect crew competency, judgment or fatigue. As said by a first officer with a leading private airline, “When tired after a long day flying, all I want to do is to somehow put the plane on the ground”

Surprisingly, the word “land” was not used.

Vasuki Prasad aka TFE

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Express, derailed. (Air India Express crash)

The news broke through calls and messages, waking up the whole Indian Aviation community. Even before people could wake up, their eyes were wide open : the crash of an Air India Express aircraft while landing into the coastal city of Mangalore, after a flight over the Arabian Sea, from Dubai, as IX 812.

With photos from the wreckage, the aircraft was identified as VT-AXV (cn 36333/2481), a Boeing 737-800. News which must be treated with caution report 169 POB (People on board), of which only 6 are reported to have survived the crash.

The aircraft landed on Runway 24 (the new, longer, west facing runway), in weather which is unclear (due to unavailability) at this point of time. After landing, the aircraft apparently over-ran the runway, and crashed from the table top that Mangalore Airport (ICAO :VOML; IATA : IXE; Name: Bajpe) rests on.

Till the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) is recovered, and experts reliably timeline the crash, speculation is rife in the industry as a landing gone terrily wrong. Contained henceforth in this article is a mixture of facts and speculation:

As reported by Capt SK: All but 6 POB died, First officer Ahuwalia, Capatain was a Spanish national.

As reported by Capt PR : IXE (managlore airport) is a plateau only 8000ft and the aircraft couldn't stop, and went over the edge.

A shocked Capt JK : Mangalore has always seen him extremely alert. Its the only approach in India that he has seen being performed with a 4 red (on the Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI): a visual indication from the runway regaring your approach profile). Normally, an approach is flown with 2 white and 2 red, with four red indicating a "terribly low on approach" profile. "There is no room for a smooth landing in Mangalore. Its got to be hard and sure"

An A320 Commander, HSD, who used to fly the P 68s: "I always used to sweat when I used to land into Mangalore (with the then shorter 09 -27 runway). Its scary; all I always hoped was for the aircraft to stop on the runway"

Capt AT : First Officer H L Ahluwalia, who's been flying from 20 years, and has an ATPL. Captain is Serbian.

Have a look at the "table top" that Mangalore airport is on, in images got from google Earth.


Images :

Google Earth, Washington Post : Images are the copyright of the photographers, as mentioned in the photo.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Medicals and Phones

On Saturday, the 17th of April, I had been to a hospital for my medical checks. Most of my friends jumped with concern, and I had to put them back in their seats with, "Its for flying".

To go flying, you need to be medically fit. getting your medicals, including Class 1, can take a long time, so the earlier you start, the better it is.

What I got done was a series of medical examinations that are required for a Class 2 medical (the requirement to get a Class 1 : the highest medical certificate for flying; mandatory for a CPL). Presenting these reports to a DGCA (The governing body for Civil Aviation, in India) approved Class 2 medical examiner will begin a probably long process in getting yourself a "file" with that body.

The medical investigations that you need to conduct can be found on DGCA's website or any other. What I want you to see, and probably "hear" is the effect of mobile phones on your medical fitness.

An audiometry test was conducted on me yesterday, called a Pure Tone Audiogram. While I am unaware of the technicalities on how the test is performed from an operators standpoint, I can tell you what the results show.

The results depict the sensitivity of your ears against frequency. Its a logarithmic graph, on the X axis, and a decibel scale on the Y axis. The way you must interpret the decibel scale is:

0 dB : 1 X (times) the expected sensitivity
-20 dB : 0.1 X the expected sensitivity
-40 dB : 0.01 X the expected sensitivity
-60 dB : 0.001 X the expected sensitivity

What the doctor said was that sensitivity as poor as -50dB (0.0032 X the expected sensitivity) is "normal". Take a look at my ear response. The red line is my right ear, the blue line my left ear.

Notice how at 4000Hz, my left ear's response is 20dB below my right ear's response at the same frequency (circled in grey). Which means, at this frequency, my right ear is only 0.1 as sensitive as my right ear.

Before generating the report, a doctor knocked of my 6000Hz data (which I have inserted in brown). It too was 20dB below my right ear, in sensitivity.

Post test, the doctor sat down with me, and got to hear my habits, which were responsible for this.

Phone on the left ear.

Its as simple as that. I don't listen to music on my iPod, nor head-bang to metal. One simple phone, calls and calls, and there goes my hearing. Kaput.

If you want to preserve your hearing, I suggest you keep off the phone as much as possible. Or listen with both ears in a silent place with a low speaker volume.

Unless of course, you would want to turn deaf to all that your captain shouts at you.


DGCA Website links:

List of Class 2 medical examiners in India :

Almost anything and everything on medical requirements :

For anything else, drop a comment at

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Between the Foot and the Rudder

When man took to the skies, he was certain about one thing: The efforts you put into flying, determine how well you fly. The relentless Wright brothers got it right, and then everyone followed suite.

Looking at it from a different angle, more from an operational perspective, for aircraft such as the Bee
chcraft King Air C90, the logic still applies. With metallic cables linking the controls with the control surfaces, the effort the poor pilot applies totally determines how the metallic bird flies.

Now, the C90 is a twin engine turboprop aircraft, member of the Beechcraft King Air family of popular and widely sold turboprop aircraft from Beechcraft (now part of Raytheon). “The Beech King Air is the world's most popular turboprop aircraft” [1]

But least popular with the girls, when an engine fails.

PA who flies the C90 talked of her experience with these marvelous C90s; And when one engine fails, humor breaks loose.

For an aircraft with two engines at a distance from each other, the failure of one creates an unbalanced torque that tends to yaw the aircraft. To compensate for this, the pilot must use the rudder pedals to create a countering torque: His or her foot on the pedal forcing the rudder to deflect towards the side of the engine which is still alive. And now is when you must remember, “The efforts you put into flying, determine how well you fly”.

The description of the scene was hilarious: PA was given a “single engine” scenario on the C90, by her instructor. The aircraft started to yaw, and she did as she was instructed: to kick on the correct rudder pedal. She kicked, but it didn’t move enough. And desperate times call for desperate measures: PA had to use her whole body weight on one single rudder pedal! “The rudder was very hard, and so I had to literally stand on the rudder pedal”. The thought of a pilot standing and flying is, well, hilariously imaginable.

But with technology, things these days get very “sunny”. Imagine, if for a small aircraft weighing 4500kgs, a pilot has to throw his/her whole body weight to achieve straight flight, what would anyone do for an Airbus A380 weighing 560,000 kg, in case of an engine failure?

The A380 is a 4 engine aircraft, and “basically even if both engines fail on one side u still DO NOT have to kick the rudder”, says Capt SK who flies the A380 for Singapore Airlines. No, he is not re-writing the books of physics.

“The TAC (which he thankfully expanded for me: Thrust Asymmetry Compensator) is part of the rudder which automatically compensates for an Engine Out (EO) or any form of thrust symmetry”. Computers on board the Airbus calculate the compensation required for a level flight, and feed it via 5000psi hydraulic lines to the upper portion of the rudder, a.k.a, TAC.

Some engineers out there may raise their eyebrows. “5000psi of pressure?”

Adds Capt SK, “Almost ALL electro-hydraulics tried out on this bird are completely new in the world of aviation......too many firsts. Firstly we have all hydraulic systems working on 5000 psi instead of the usual 3000 psi”.

All Airbus aircraft except for the A300 and A310 (both are no longer in production) use fly-by-wire technology (FBW). In an FBW aircraft, a pilot’s controls send electrical signals to computers which determine how much pressure needs to be pumped to the control surfaces. Aircraft manufacturers may decide to induce some artificial feedback to the control column (such as what Boeing does on its 777 FBW), or may have no feedback at all (such as on the sticks of Airbus FBW aircraft).

With technology, “The efforts you put into flying (or the lack of it), determine how well you fly”.

Gone are the days of the (w)right fliers!




Beechcraft King Air C90 : Copyright Dean Cully, from

A380 Image : Copyright Wim Callaert, from

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Smoking Russian Beauties

If you thought this has anything to do with long legged Russian models, well, you're partly right.

On Saturday (March the 20th), I was making my way past a road that goes close to the threshold of Runway 09, Bangalore HAL airport (the old one, ICAO : VOBG). Under the brilliance of the midday sun, the silence of endless fields surrounding the old airport was broken by a sudden, harsh yet pleasing drone. A black nosed, grey bodied Antonov An-32 zoomed overhead, with its gear down, coming in for a landing. Suddenly, the "clean" aircraft let out thick black smoke from its engines, leveled off, and executed a missed approach. It quickly transitioned to a clean configuration, reducing itself to a small speck in the emptiness of the vast cloudless sky, its presence marked by the thick black smoke that speaks so well of Ukranian design. It was truly a sight to behold.

Very often the Indian Air Force (IAF) conducts practice flights at this airport. And when they do, life around the dull airport transforms beyond imagination.

Few months back, as I was riding parallel to the runway of the same airport, in the direction of the setting sun, golden rays from a majestic sun played hide and seek between the trees on the Old Airport Road, and when these rays failed to hide, golden shafts of light would strike my face, making me sport my best smile!

As I enjoyed this game with the sun and trees, from nowhere came the loud drone of a Russian engine…..and before long, an IAF AN-32, in all its glory, performed a low pass over the runway with its chin lights on: retractable landing lights that add to the beauty of the beast.

And, it didn’t pass without its usual thick black smoke.

The Antonov AN-32 is one long-main landing gear (long leg) Russian Aircraft, which entered service with the IAF in 1984. Now 26 years into service, these handsome beasts are in a class of their own: Majestic, yet coughing for both efficiency and performance. And my editor, who is a retired Air Marshall, used to fly them for the IAF, which happens to be the launch customer of this aircraft.

Says Vovick Karnozov, whom I had the pleasure of meeting personally at India Aviation 2010 (held at Hyderbad),

“Outwardly, the An-32 closely resembles a previous Antonov design, the An-26, from which it had been derived. The major visible difference is two king-sized Ivchenko AI-20D Series 5 engines, each 5180 hp, in lieu of the far more compact 2550-hp AI-24s. The An-26's fuselage, undercarriage and wing were beefed up to sustain higher loads and speeds. Having similar cargo cabin dimensions (inner volume 60 cu.m), the original An-32 featured higher gross weight (27t against 24t for the An-26), higher cruise speed (470-530 against 420-440km/h) and better climb performance (8000 m vs 6000 m in 19 minutes), while showing almost the same range with full tanks (some 2300 km). The An-26 itself had been derived from the An-24RV 48-seat passenger turboprop operational since 1969.

Unlike many other airplanes of the Soviet era, the An-32 was designed primarily for export, most notably for India whose air armed forces had a requirement for a light air lifter able to operate from short, hot-and-high aerodromes in the mountain areas (ambient temperatures up to 55 degree Celsius, airfield height above sea level to 4500 m). Such an airplane was of a little interest to the Soviet air force, which had opted for another Antonov design, the An-72 (first flight in 1977, in production since 1985) as its primary lightweight short takeoff and landing (STOL) transport.”

Adds Vovick, “Except for (I believe he meant to say “Apart from”) the outstanding thrust-to-weight ratio and well-tried airframe, the An-32 has a considerable price advantage over competing western designs, with flyaway price of $6-9 million (depending on version) against $12-20 million for the competition.”

When I shared this small yet sweet smoky experience of mine with Capt PR, who flies the 737 NGs with Jet Airways, and used to fly the Ilyushin IL-38’s for the Indian Navy, he himself had something interesting to share.

“Long back, landing into Mumbai on my ILYUSHIN which has a similar black profile, another aircraft waiting for takeoff had asked “What fuel do you use?”

We said, “coal!””


(BTW, when I editied my post, I realized that the original post had been created at 7:37:00pm. Can you see the Boeing aircraft in this time?)

Image Copyrights :

Top Left : Antonov AN-32, taken by Sushank Gupta

Bottom Right : IL-38, taken by Sergey Krivchikov

Both images from Airliners net

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Birth in Aviation

Here goes my first ever blog, and it ought to start with those wonderful men and women who make aviation a flying dream.

Probably none of these ever helpful people would like their names to be published so openly here, so The Flying Engineer will be a guardian representative for each and every one of them. Here they are, in no particular order except the randomness of my mind:

1. Capt. AR : Airbus A330 / A320 / ATR-72 Captain
2. Capt. SK : Airbus A380/ B777/ B737NG
3. Capt. PC : Airbus A320 Captain
4. Capt. HSD : Airbus A320 Captain
5. Capt. DSD : Airbus A320 F/O, Embraer
6. Capt. RM : Boeing 737NG Captain
7. Capt. HK : Dassault Falcon 2000 F/O
8. Capt. RSR : Dassult Falcon 7x Captain
9. AT : ATR72-500 trainee F/O
10. PA : Beechcraft Kingair C-90A, TB-20
11. SJ : FMS developer, Airbus Family of FMS (A320/A340/A380/A350) with a major North American Avionics manufacturer
12. JH : manufactures 2 seater microlights
13. SR : Boeing 737 and ATR-72 AME
14. SY : Boeing 737 and ATR-72 AME
15. MEL : Boeing 757 AME
13: Myself (TFE) : Design Engineer with a North American Avionics Manufacturer, Aviation Journalist, Static Model collector, passionate instructor.

Although the tilt appears to be on Airbus, none of our opinions will be biased. After all, wings don't know who they're flying : an Airbus or a Boeing, or other?

Know that more than anything, this blog is for YOU, by me, of YOU. To every passionate individual out here, know that the dream to fly is fulfilled by the thrust to lift off the ground.