* Schematic of A320 Family Air Conditioning System *
After ten days of primarily computer-based classroom study, aided with instructor input, I'm pleased to say I have completed the Airbus A320 Type Rating ground school. The amount of content I've had to absorb is akin to drinking from a fire hose and in that sense I am happy to have achieved a score of 86.5%. The content, as you'd expect, has covered all sorts of systems which certainly blew plenty of cobwebs off of the teachings of Aircraft General Knowledge (AGK) from my time in ATPL Groundschool. It's reassuring to know that those ATPLs have been stored in the brain somewhere!
* Schematic of A320 Family Electrical System *
For those of you that are interested, or perhaps for those of you who are soon to embark on an A320 type rating, the test structure was like this:
It's worth noting the structure of the test may well vary if you attend a different ATO, or indeed if you sit an A320 Technical groundschool for another airline. The above structure is fairly similar across L3 A320 Typeratings though, I believe. What made the test that more challenging is a requirement to attain at least 75% in each section, as well as a minimum of 75% overall, which means you'd only need to drop one or two questions in the smaller sections to fail the test.
* Airbus Electronic Flight Bag Application *
Following the technical groundschool we had two more topics to cover and the first of these was aircraft performance. To summarise performance in the aviation sense it's essentially the calculations behind figuring out if we can get airborne or land at an airport with a given payload (passengers, crew, baggage, fuel) and environmental conditions (atmospheric conditions, runway condition etc). Performance is nothing new to me at this stage given we had to complete it for every flight in the Cessna and Diamond aircraft I've flown previously.
Unlike in the Diamond DA42 etc where you work out all your calculations from charts etc, the majority of airline pilots these days make use of computerised systems to assist them. At easyJet this is on an Electronic Flight Bag, referred to as EFB for short. Other airlines such as British Airways or TAP Portugal use an aircraft system (ACARS) to send a request to their central databases and retrieve performance figures that way. Regardless to the method of obtaining the performance, it's all much the same in the end. It comes down to the question "Can we or can we not takeoff or land at Airport XXX?".
The photo I've included above is what Airbus's EFB software looks like and is what pilots at easyJet use on the daily. This applications allows us to select the aircraft we're flying and the TO / FROM destination in addition to several other parameters. These other parameters include things like Runway in use at the airport, the wind at the airport, the number of passengers and bags onboard and their distribution through the various aircraft cabin zones or holds, the fuel on board etc etc.
Once we've entered all of that data in the EFB it will return a set of data we're to use for the departure or landing. As an example, it could well say:
From this information we would then configure the aircraft with flaps setting two and enter the speeds along with any other parameters into our aircraft computer system. The aircraft will then take note of the entered parameters for the relevant phases of flight. Once we'd learnt how to compute all of this electronically, we were shown how to do it on paper - in case our EFBs were unavailable. That in itself is a highly unlikely scenario given we have two on the flight deck at any one time but nevertheless it's still important to be shown it. This involved looking through the many tables and graphs within the aircraft manual. Having seen how many there are I can sure see why applications such as the above were created. There's pages of the things! One for each configuration of flap, runway surface condition, system malfunction etc. I'm kind of pleased I won't be having to interpolate data from them on a daily basis but it's reassuring to know your ability to use tables like that hasn't faded with a few months out of flying. The performance section of the training course concluded with a practical test giving us several scenarios for which we had to workout the takeoff / landing performance for.
After performance was out of the way we moved onto the final assessed section of the ground school known as Performance Based Navigation, or PBN. It's not really an overly interesting topic to talk about and if you were curious I'm sure I mentioned most of the topic back during Ground School in the blog post where I discuss Radio Navigation. In essence it talks about the introduction of GPS flying within the creation of routing / approaches / departures. PBN will likely be backed up during our simulators when we conduct GPS approaches. With that said, it's nothing new really as I flew similar, but slightly older approaches, in both New Zealand and Bournemouth.
All in all I passed the three tests which I'm very happy about. I can now look forward to the more fun aspects of the training.
The final item on the agenda before we hop into the simulators was some more CRM training. Unlike your traditional CRM course which lasts a couple of days and has you exploring all of the weaknesses of humanity and errors (Swiss cheese model, latent and active errors etc) this course focussed a lot more on the day to day job within the cockpit environment. Delivered by an easyJet captain it was very relevant to our future careers. We were also joined by individuals from other airlines whom were completing their type ratings at L3 and it was interesting to see the minor and major differences in operating procedures between carriers for what is essentially the same aircraft.
During this session we moved our focus to modern day airliner automation, with a specific focus on the a320 family. The management of the aircraft automatics was referred to as a skill and it has taken me until today to actually see it in that light. For example, mastering Microsoft Excel is an incredible skill to have. It's an awesome application when you get to know how to use it effectively and when you look at that that way, the automation onboard an airliner is no different.
The a320 has several layers of automation and what this session highlighted is the importance of seeking a high level of competence and understanding when it comes to interacting with the aircraft auto-flight computers. I fell into the trap when asked a question about what I'd do if the aircraft wasn't responding in the way I wanted it to. I said that i'd disconnect the autopilot and fly it manually. According to the instructor and Airbus's Philosophy, that may or may not have been the correct answer depending on the context. It was made clear that so long as we understand the levels of automation and what each allows us to do then a tricky situation is perfectly recoverable. The Airbus was, after all, designed with higher levels of automation in mind.
This viewpoint - which would likely have a few Boeing pilots grumbling - was backed up with a couple of flight playbacks utilising information taken from a few Airbus Flight Data Recorders over the years. Seeing these types of playbacks was actually very helpful. We got to see examples of how not to fly with automation and then another example of how to correctly fly using it. Ultimately this CRM course was really hitting home at the need for us all to go away and learn the true definitions behind the various autopilot and auto-thrust modes and, more importantly, the relevant standard operating procedure for their use.
Moving away from automation and towards the general cockpit interaction, we were also shown a training video from easyJet on the correct expectations within the cockpit as far as standard operating procedures go. The video highlighted how NOT to fly something and then rewound and showed the same sequence done correctly. The poor examples fell apart where standard operating procedures were not followed. The result of this was the other pilot becoming somewhat flustered and unsure of his own role or responsibilities. This video further reinforced the importance of me memorising the various Airbus procedures. At this point in time I feel fairly confident in getting the aircraft from the stand, to the runway and up to cruising altitude, but it's the standard calls and procedures for getting it back down again where my own procedure knowledge is hazy. Thankfully there's now two full days off where I can work on filling those gaps ahead of the first sim on Wednesday.
On the whole the CRM session was highly beneficial and highlighted the best places to find valuable information within each of the manuals we've been provided. While the technical theory training is now out of the way, that's certainly not the end of the road. Each simulator session has a selection of pre-reading which outlines the failures / errors were to cover within that session. We have been strongly advised to try and stay one to two sims ahead and read up on the procedures in advance of each lesson.
The sims! Whoop - It's certainly exciting.
In total I have 1 pre sim session, 5 fixed-base sim sessions and 5 full motion simulators before that all important Airbus Line Skills Test. Having checked the pre-sim syllabus, it doesn't seem too taxing and appears to be a nice introduction to the aircraft. For example, correct seat positioning, correct taxi procedures, how to turn the aircraft around 180° on the runway etc etc. The first proper sim session seems to be on Thursday where we start exploring things in more depth. I'm looking forward to sitting in a true to life cockpit environment instead of in front of flat panel LCD mockups as it'll make things more motorised by action and, with luck, easier to memorise.
I'll come back with a new post once I've completed a few sim sessions.
Until my next post,