Friday, 28 January 2011

Sympathy for the Devil

I'm feeling a little conflicted. I have spent this week doing things I wouldn't normally approve of, but I haven't really had a choice.

First of all I flew as a passenger with a certain Low-Cost carrier (lets call them AirLeary) who I vowed never to travel with. I would never have booked the flight myself, but the reason I was flying in the first place was to operate flights on behalf of the alternative (lets call these guys Green Air)- whose Cabin Crew are on strike (which I will come to) so there was no other way to get there.

The flight was a short 40 minutes, and (whilst I would never choose to fly with AirLeary) try as I might, I can find nothing to complain about. The flight departed on time, the aeroplane was new and clean, the cabin crew smartly turned out and professional, and since the seats had no pockets in the back, I had enough room for my knees.

Actually I think this is one area that they have absolutely right. No seat pockets means no space for an inflight magazine, or safety card so magazines are handed out only to people who ask for one. It keeps the magazines in much better condition, and must keep the aircraft weight down as you don't have to carry so many. The safety card is now stuck to the headrest in front of you and therefore never gets bent or crumpled. It's position means that you are almost forced to give it some attention, and while this is a little intrusive, for just 40 minutes it was tolerable. I would still not fly with them if I had an alternative, but for a short flight, they do job fine.

And so to the strike-busting. I don't know the details of the strike, it has not been well publicised in the UK as we have our own high profile flag carrier with cabin crew problems. From what I gather, though, the dispute centres around extra working extra hours, at more unsociable hours, for less money. This is not a workforce who went to their employer with unreasonable demands and threw their toys out of the pram, these are people who feel they are being treated unreasonably and unfairly, and they have my sympathy. And yet I am in effect crossing their picket line (there was no one actually picketing but you get my point).

So how do I justify this? Well, I work for a charter airline. A significant proportion of our money is made from chartering our aircraft and crew to air operators who, for whatever reason, cannot provide the service themselves. Sometimes it's due to a "Tech" (broken) aeroplane, sometimes, it's a regular arrangement for an independent travel agent, sometimes a football team playing in Europe, sometimes it's down to industrial relations.

I have a certain amount of discomfort knowing that I am playing a part in the deterioration of aircrew terms of employment which have been under constant attack for a long time now. However, the cabin crew are making their point very well. They are causing Green Air disruption and embarrassment, and imposing a financial penalty on their employer by having them pay for charter companies, which is not cheap. Despite this Green Air has a duty to it's passengers not to cancel flights willy nilly, and is making an effort to get the job done even using other people's aircraft. I hope the Green Air passengers acknowledge this and that there is a job for the Crew to return to when the dispute ends.

I wish them all luck. To the airline that needs to keep ticket prices competitive so that they manage to keep their passengers. To the Cabin Crew whose mortgages and living standards depend on fair wages and conditions. I hope you reach a reasonable and amicable conclusion, and also, since it was obvious what I had been doing at your base, thank you for not taking your frustration out on me During my flight home in uniform tonight.

- Blogged by a mercen-air-y

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A Quick Distraction

Just putting the finishing touches to the second part of the snow blog, but I thought I would share some of this week's Spanish sunsets with you.

Contrail catching the sun over the French Alps, Monday night.

Sunset over Barcalona

And a little later over Alicante

The following day, sunset over the Atlantic

Last night approaching Tenerife- I haven't seen a Moon (top left corner) like this for a long time - Oh for a proper zoom lens!

Mount Teide on Tenerife to the left of the view, and the island of La Gomera on the left.

- Blogged from my iPad

Sunday, 2 January 2011

It's Snow Joke! Part 1- the Aeroplane

*❅ ✈*✾*✶*❄*✈❄*❇*❅ ✈*✾*✶*❄*✈❄*❇*❅ ✈*✾*✶*❄*✈❄*❇*❅ ✈*❄*❇

❄*❇*❅ ✈*✾*✶*❄*✈❄*❇*❅ ✈*✾*✶*❄*✈❄*❇*❅ ✈*✾*✶*❄*✈❄*❇*❅ ✈*

So, here is a blog about my recent experiences of snow at work, but First please accept my apology for the inevitable bad pun in the title.

Ice and snow on the wings of an aircraft can cause serious problems, not so much because of the extra weight it adds to the airframe (although this can be a factor) but because as it sits on the upper surface of the wing, it can change the wing's shape (and of course it is the airflow over the specific shape of the wing that gives an aeroplane Lift).

As a result, an plane must be de-iced before you go anywhere, but a very specific, non-corrosive acetate based de-icing fluid must be used. At airports in the UK, it is applied with a de-icing rig- a tanker which heats the fluid to about 80°C while a chap braves the cold at the top of a cherry picker arm to hose down the wings and tail. This will melt the ice, and depending on the conditions give you further protection from frost and snow for a time specified in a complicated table (essentially, the colder it is and the heavier the snow is falling, the shorter the time before you have to get de-iced again). However these rigs are expensive prices of equipment and not used for most of the year. As a result most airports are equipped with only one or two units. Expect to have to wait for your turn!
A great image of de-icing from

And a Video here.

Once airborne, most modern aircraft tend not to pick up much ice, and if they do, it happens in specific places. The leading edge (front) of the wing and tailplane are most likely to be effected, and aircraft are not allowed to carry people unless they have the ability to clear that ice. On jets, some hot air is usually taken from a "bleed valve" in the engine, and directed along ducts in the wing's leading edge to melt the ice. On Turboprops (modern passenger aircraft with propellors, but more about exactly what they are in a future post) there is less spare power and heat available from the engine, so they tend to use "de-icing boots". These are hard wearing strips of rubber tubing along the leading edge which use bleed air to inflate and bulge, thus cracking any ice formed which then gets blown off in the airflow. I know what you're thinking, because the first time I had it described to me I thought it sounded dodgy too, but I have used boots on Dash 8 aircraft, and they are extremely effective.
This picture from Judith shows the boots on the wings and tail of a Dash 8

Of course the aircraft anti ice systems are not just used at this time of year. The higher in the atmosphere you go, the colder it gets- usually in quite a uniform fashion (you lose about 2°C per thousand feet) so even in the height of summer if you fly through a cloud at altitude you are likely to need some help from the de-icing system.

There are also some small operational changes that pilots will use when the weather outside is frightful. Lowering flaps later on the taxi out to the runway can help prevent snow and ice getting into the control surfaces. After you have landed and blown snow and ice everywhere with reverse thrust, the flaps might be left down longer during the taxi to stand, so that anything blown onto the flaps can fall off.
But assuming that everything else is running smoothly at your airport and you have made it aboard your plane, the most you are likely to notice is the de-icing rig and (probably) the extra delay as you wait for it to arrive at your aeroplane.

- Blogged from my iPad