Airport Smackdown: Jethead vs. LaGarbage


What better to beat the blistering heat of a Jethroplex summer than a float in your own ce-ment pond? You bid the later-in-the-day flights and you’re senior enough to hold them. That means the morning run–helps you sit still for the 6 or 7 hours you’ll be in the air–and an early afternoon swim. Then, reality check waiting on the iPhone:

You knew that. LaGarbage today, tomorrow too–then LAX the next day. That’s your work week. Get ready.

That’s the current radar picture in the New York metro area. The stuff just north of Tom’s River will be a problem if it doesn’t move out to sea. You can tell there’s a front line between Jersey and NYC somewhere–just look at the temperature difference. Cold air slipping under warm air produces big boomers, and it doesn’t take much of that to disrupt the inbound flow to Kennedy, Newark and of course, LaGuardia. Shrug. Deal with it when you get there–but prepare for it before you take-off: more fuel.

Of course, that’s a double-edged sword too: LaGuardia is a short runway with virtually no overrun on either end–just Flushing Bay. No, it’s not as extremely short as Burbank, John Wayne-Orange County or The Dreaded 33 in Washington (5,000′). But it’s short enough–especially if it’s wet–to make landing weight important. DFW: 13,000 feet of concrete, overruns and clear zones beyond. LaGarbage? A friction overlay on the end of 22 and 13, (wanna test that out?) murky water everywhere else.

Preserve your options: arrive with enough fuel for holding and a go-around. The 737 is a good stopping jet–as is the MD80–and the 737 is very stable on approach. No big worries about airspeed control or pitch.

Confer with Flight Dispatch: they have you flight planned in the mid-thirty thousands because of previously reported chop. Fine, but we’ll check ahead en route and decide if we can’t cruise higher and save more fuel. Plus, our route will arc north, then east, picking up more tailwind as we go. Should put us over upstate New York fat on fuel.

Board 160 passengers. Preflight. Taxi out. Climb.

Life settles down to cruise: fuel flow, ETAs, routing. As expected, the ride is reported smooth in the low 40s by aircraft there now, so we climb and save more fuel, plus put ourselves above most of the weather trying to build itself into the stratosphere from the sun’s climbing radiance.

Radar watch is beginning to turn up signs of the frontal clash converging on the northeast. Super radar–good picture out beyond 300 miles, has it’s own GPS so it knows where all topographical features are and screens them out of the radar image. Good to be sure that what we’re seeing is nothing but weather.

Lunch? Dinner? Whatever–it’s the last food you’ll see today. Everything at LaGarbage will either be closed or out beyond security, which you don’t have time for: they’ll be clamoring to board 160 passengers outbound as soon as you get there. Speaking of which, within an hour of landing, we can get the current weather at LaGuardia and print it out:

Fine. Planning on 22; landing south and into the wind, no real storm threats or complications. Set up nav aids, discuss the approach with the F/O. Verify the runway in the Flight Management System (FMS) and the Heads Up Display (HUD). Validate all of the altitude and airspeed restrictions on the arrival.

The FMS begins its backward countdown of miles to go and upward count of vertical velocity required to satisfy the arrival restrictions. Cool?

Not so fast. Just checking onto a new frequency and you hear holding instructions being given to some unlucky aircraft. Now, that either means someone south of you (Atlanta? Philly?) or someone north (Boston?) has an inbound backup. Or–it’s New York Center airspace that’s enjoying a traffic jam at altitude. You bring up the holding page on the FMS display. Here it comes.

“American 738, hold west as published at MIGET. Expect further clearance at  0115.” Figures. Well, okay–holding endurance? Like you haven’t thought of that already. At altitude, we’re at an incredibly low fuel burn.

We can loiter for the better part of an hour. One thing about EFCs (Expect Further Clearance) you can count on is–you can’t count on them. So plan accordingly. On your side is your altitude, fuel flow and fuel reserve. The jets cruising lower enter holding there and burn more fuel as a result. Set up the entry and the hold:

EFCs are a best guess by Air Traffic Control, but they can be very pessimistic. Even if you can’t hold as long as they predict, you can hold till your endurance runs out and you need to bingo (divert to your alternate). Some pilots I know like to “Go Ugly Early:” if you think there’s a good chance you’ll have to divert, beat the rush for fuel and a turnaround at the divert station.

I’d rather stay high and slow and see what shapes up. We all still divert when you reach Bingo fuel, it’s just a difference in strategy.

New York Center is offering “Rockdale,” a navigation point north of  LaGarbage and in Boston Center’s airspace. Get released from holding immediately and approach from the north is the deal they’re offering, and some jets are taking it. I don’t think so; we have a good, high altitude perch here with a low fuel burn. Rockdale requires a lower cruise, inevitably, with higher burn–and no guarantees when you get there. Sure, maybe Boston Center has less aircraft but you still have to eventually get sequenced into new York Center’s flow.

It’s like switching lines at the grocery store: pick the short line and someone will need a price check or will have a zillion coupons to verify. Meanwhile, some jets below are starting to Go Ugly early–Philly’s going to be a mess. And the winds are shifting at LaGarbage–they’re switching landing runways:

Refiguring the approach is not a big deal. But it’s a bad sign: runway changes take time and lead to a huge backup on the ground at LaGuardia. Plus shifting winds mean unpredictable weather due to frontal passage. Alright, plan “B” is the runway 4 approach. Reprogram the FMSs, the courses and the nav radios.

Holding is eating up fuel, which is actually easing the stopping distance–but check it anyway. And use the chart for a wet runway while you’re at it. Figure on the worst case and the most Autobrakes, say 3 or maybe even max.

More jets at the bottom of the stack are heading for Philly; we’re still sound fuel-wise. Patience.

Finally! Released from holding, cleared downline. Do the numbers: what fuel will you arrive with but more importantly, assuming a go-around at LGA, what will you land with at JFK (that’s the plan) after? Numbers show actually about a 1-2 thousand pound surplus. Perfect.

Now we’re committed–not going to climb back into the enroute sector (too much fuel burn). And now the glass shows what the radar has been painting.

The ugly blotches here are actually the towering cumulus we’re sinking into here:

Already have the crew strapped in, all passengers down. Actually, the bad weather is a relief in a way: everything slows down as radar separation is increased. Plus, the approach is a straight-in, precision approach rather than the hairpin visual approach that is officially called the “Expressway Visual:”

Lots more fun from a pilot standpoint, but definitely more hectic. Finally, the wide swing to finally. Configure. In the slot: altitude, airspeed, configuration, glide slope, localizer.

Minimums: see the runway, land carefully; immediate reverse.

Now, the elephant walk to the gate. Park.

No time for relaxing–it all starts again in 50 minutes, outbound with another 160 passengers impatiently waiting to board. The inbound holding and the LaGarbage ground congestion has already set us behind schedule, and passengers have connections to make at DFW.

That’s the workday–only another 1300 air miles to go. Let’s get to work.

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13 Responses to “Airport Smackdown: Jethead vs. LaGarbage”

  1. Never knew all this was going on–love getting a real “behind the scenes” look at what you do!

  2. Great stuff, Captain. Be advised that those ATC folks in your ear very seldom have any real idea how long you’ll expect to hold. All we’re told is that approach control is no longer accepting arrivals. We assume there’s good reason (wx inside the cornerpost is clogging up their airspace), but there are two or three layers of folks between those who have given you holding and those who decide they are ready to accept another airplane.

    Over time, I developed the strategy of giving EFCs rather longer than I expected. Underpromise and overdeliver, plus it cuts down on frequency congestion in the meantime. If you need to bingo to alternate, I could always do that for you more quickly than I could run down the reasons why EFC updates aren’t more accurate.

    • Good point. I never worry about EFCs, rather, just reasonable bingo. Pilots who try to base decisions on estimates rather than actual fuel flow end up taking action based on speculation. I’d rather closely monitor the facts and act accordingly. Never have had anything but good support from ATC.

       Chris

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

  3. blackwatertown Says:

    This counts as a day without drama – but compared to the days most of us count as normal, it’s full of incident.
    Thanks – as always – for the insight.

  4. ANother great post, Chris. Thank you. You understand the concept behing RHIP. Is that why I see TWO shrimp plates on your tray? Good move! Looking forward to your next missive. -Craig.

  5. As you know, BEA has issued another report on AF447. I thought that this was the final, but it turns out to be another interim report. As usual, the press mangles the facts beyond human understanding. I’d like to read your take if any, on the report itself. Perhaps we still have to await the final? I’ve read an English translation of the French interim report, but it appears to say very little. One alarming note, perhaps suffering from translation, is the Captain’s comment, “…This is not possible…” That does not sound like something that an experienced Air France A-330 Captain would say. (I can think of a few other possible phrases while he was assessing the situation, but this is not one of them.) At some point I would like to read your thoughts on this unfortunate topic. Until I read some professional evaluations of these reports, I’m reserving comment. You can bet that I’m not ‘flying’ with the analyses seen in the commercial press. They have even less clue than I do. Thanks and best wishes. I enjoy your blog.
    -Craig
    P.S. Commercial news reporting of “Aviation Incidents,” even with the benefit of their Expert Consultants, is truly sad. It is rare for them to get any of the significant details correct and their analyses are usually just ‘plane’ wrong! Why do pleople read or watch this crap? -C.

    • Honestly, I never speculate on aircraft accidents. I haven’t read the report, only summaries and always from the standpoint of “How can I not screw this up myself?” Lots of questions about electronic instruments and backup systems and cockpit cues of aircraft performance–no answers yet, but they’ll be forthcoming, translated into actionable, fleet specific solutions. Until then, I really can’t speak to the facts of that accident.

       Chris

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

      • My error when I started asking; I thought it was the final report. No so! Like you, I’ll wait. Then, we’ll need some professional input. Standing by…
        I don’t know your secret publishing schedule, but I hope that we are due for a new post, soon. Thank you.
        -Craig

      • Thanks for asking–been a little behind (summer time) but will update soon!

         Chris

        Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

  6. Works for me. Have a great summer and watch those high altitude fields. They bite. -C.

  7. [...] inspiração para este voo veio de um post do Capt. Chris Manno em seu blog, relativo a sua escala de voos para uma determinada semana. [...]

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