Thursday, September 30, 2010

Luau at the tower

Well, sort of - we did wear Hawaiian shirts (some even sported leis) and have food. But it wasn't about Hawaii; instead of "luau" it was "LUAW." Yes, you read that right. LUAW: As in "Line Up And Wait."

Beginning today, controllers in the US are no longer using the phraseology "Position and hold" to instruct an aircraft to take the runway in preparation for departure. Some of you may remember that this used to be "Taxi into position and hold", and in fact we still often used the moniker TIPH in guidelines, procedures, or training documentation.

The new phraseology is "Line up and wait", words that are already standard in most of the rest of the world. This change will bring US controllers a bit closer to our counterparts elsewhere, who have been applying ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) standard phraseology for some time now.

Some have asked why the FAA is doing this (while others have asked why we are just now getting around to it), and the short answer is to reduce confusion. While English is the standardized international language in aviation, for many pilots at LAX it is not their first language. Up to now, we've used the phrase "Position and hold" to tell a pilot to get on the runway in preparation for departure but not begin the roll for takeoff. We have also used the phrases "hold in position" and "hold your position" for other instructions. When you consider that sentence structure in English differs from that of some other languages, it doesn't require much imagination to see the possibility for this to go wrong, especially when non-native English speaking pilots are involved. For anyone who desires a pop culture example, I refer you to the Star Wars movie series: think of Yoda's non-standard sentence structure:
"Always in motion is the future."
"Lost a planet Master Obi-Wan has. How embarrassing."
"Agree with you the council does. Your apprentice Skywalker will be."

"Blind we are, if creation of this clone army we could not see."
"When 900 years you reach, look as good, you will not."

I have personally experienced many situations where the pilot was told to hold his position, and he interpreted the instruction as "position and hold." Sometimes we caught it when he read it back wrong; other times the first indication we had was when the airplane started moving. In those instances, if we were lucky we were able to get the pilot to stop before the airplane crossed the line marking the runway; if we weren't so lucky then another airplane may have had to go around or change to another runway (or in one situation I saw, abort the takeoff).

In this photo, the Delta A330 is about to land on Runway 24 Left;
Southwest is waiting to depart.

In a subsequent shot, Southwest is now in position on runway 24 left while World is about to touch down on runway 24 right.

I can think of at least two advantages to the new phraseology. The first is that "Line up and wait" sounds nothing like "hold in position" or "hold your position," both of which phrases will continue in use. Secondly, "Line up and wait" is what most of the foreign pilots are already accustomed to hearing. In either case, there seems to be less opportunity for confusion. And reducing confusion is what it's all about, because a confused or muddled pilot is much more likely to accidentally put the aircraft on the runway when it shouldn't be there.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sisters with Blisters

Sisters With Blisters Dallas 2008

For the last several years, my friend Jenny from Texas has walked in the Susan G. Komen Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day for the Cure. For those unfamiliar, this is a fund-raising event for breast cancer research. Jenny lost her mother to breast cancer, and my good friend and running buddy (and first instructor at Monroe Tower) Bob lost his wife to breast cancer shortly after the birth of their second baby. I imagine that there are similar tales within the readership of these words. I support Jenny's walk each year, and I'd like to encourage you to consider doing something as well. Maybe walk, run or bike in your local event. Or support a friend, neighbor, or coworker who is. If you would like to join me in supporting Jenny's walk, here is a link to her donation page:

Jenny at the Dallas Fort Worth 3-Day

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

LAX aircraft spotters' guide: Boeing 737, Part 4: Recognition Cues

This is the conclusion of the B737 spotters' guide series. There are three previous segments:

As the most common jetliner around, the B737 is a regular sight at airline airports all over the world. However its arch rival, the Airbus A320 series, is most likely also seen at those same airports. Since the two are basically similar in appearance, here are a few pointers for differentiating them.

We'll start with some views of both a B737 and an Airbus together. In each of these shots, the Airbus is in the foreground:

American B738 with an Air Canada A320

Continental B738 and a Virgin America A319

Alaska B738 and Volaris A319

Delta B738 and A320

Southwest B737 with a US Airways A319

AeroMexico B737 and Virgin America A320

Alaska B738 with Air Canada A320

Just for the sake of variety, here's a shot with the positions reversed:

Virgin America A320 and WestJet B738

The easily-spotted differentiating characteristics are the shape of the nose, the presence or absence and size of winglets, and the tail. We'll start at the front, with the noses:

The B737 (here modeled in blue by Southwest) nose appears more angular than that of the Airbus (seen here in US Airways and Jet Blue colors, respectively), which is more rounded. The shape of the cockpit windows also differs; on the Airbus the bottom of the windows forms a relatively straight line as compared to the pronounced angles on the Boeing. On the Airbus, the nose gear is a bit farther aft, almost directly beneath the front passenger door. The B737's nose gear is positioned between the rear of the cockpit windows and the door. Also, when the landing gear is down, the Boeing has much larger nose gear doors showing (this is because the B737's doors stay open while the gear is down, whereas the A320's nose doors close again).

Meanwhile, at the other end:

The B737 has a dorsal fin that angles into the vertical stabilizer, but there is none on the Airbus. Also, the tailcones are very different; the Boeing's truncated design is reminiscent of a boat, while that of the Airbus makes me think of an anteater:
Giant ant eater

When it comes to the wings, all the Airbuses have the same little triangle-shaped winglets, which remind me of Delta Airlines' current "lazy widget" tail livery. The B737s, meanwhile, either have great big honking winglets or none at all. This is largely determined by the operator, as most of the current B737 models can be equipped with winglets if so desired. One interesting detail is that some B737 operators have chosen to paint their winglets differently on one side compared to the other. Check out the AeroMexico and WestJet pictures for examples.

And that brings me to what is usually the simplest way to determine if you're looking at a B737 or an A320: Whose name and logo are painted on the side? Most carriers have one or the other; few have both. Currently, the only regular operator of both B737s and A320s at LAX is Delta. US Airways still has B737s, but they hardly ever show up here anymore. Frontier and United both used to have B737s and now have Airbuses instead. Alaska and Southwest have nothing but B737s; similarly, American and Continental are all-Boeing fleets, although not just B737s. Air Canada brings in Airbuses, while competitor WestJet uses exclusively B737s; AeroMexico flies B737s, whereas Mexicana and Volaris use Airbuses (Mexicana did, anyway, back when they were still flying).

An early-morning view of Terminal 1, with a variety of B737 and A320 models

A similar shot, showing Southwest aircraft double-parked in the D-7 alley. This view makes it easier to discern the taller tails on the newer -700 models.

A question during a recent phone conversation with a friend reminded me of another detail difference between the Classics and the Next Generations: the shape of the engine cowlings. The Classic series (-300/-400/-500) have flattened bottoms on their cowlings, as modeled in the first shot by an Alaska B734. They look sort of like they would if they were made round out of something like chocolate, and then left sitting on the ground out in the hot sun too long. The newer Next Generation models have more circular cowlings, shown here on a Southwest -700.

And speaking of Southwest, I here's another shot of that -700. Here you can clearly see the orange-painted flap track fairings which I mentioned in an earlier segment.

Gratuitous B737 photos:

Big Brothers:

Remember this shot of a WestJet B738 dwarfing the neighboring B736?

Not so big when parked next to an Air New Zealand B763!

Okay, now it's quiz time. Find the B737 in each of the following photos:

And that's a wrap! They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and by that count I reckon this spotters' guide series on the B737 has been about the equivalent of the Encyclopædia Britannica!