Thursday’s thunderstorm from the Flight Deck

20090820-PHC_1300_1, originally uploaded by Paul Chan – Canada.

Captain Doug Morris is an A320 pilot for Air Canada, and he is the author of an interesting and informative blog called From the Flight Deck (which is also, and not coincidentally, the title of his book).  He has posted some interesting details from his travels on Thursday, including the effect of the weather on airport operations:

Flight 1040 (DEN-YYZ)

We knew those thunderstorms in western Ontario may be an issue on the return flight. The TAF was calling for a 30% chance for our arrival. We were holding YUL (Montreal) as an alternate and we were tankering three tonnes of extra fuel. Flight dispatch has a program, which determines whether buying cheaper fuel is worth carrying. Pilots like tankering fuel because nowadays fuel calculations are done with a “sharpened pencil.”

While enroute a SIGMET is issued stating a solid line of TSTMS tops to 55,000 feet is now observed in Western Ontario with possible GR (hail) and FC (Funnel cloud). I had to remind the F/O of the acronym FC. The amended TAF timed the thunderstorms to be either over the airport or passed to the east for our arrival. A datalink from dispatch confirmed the thunderstorms have passed and the Toronto airport is open for business. However, I knew things would be backed up on the ground because of the “red alert.” That’s when all ground personnel (rampies, fuelers, marshallers) walk off the site and everything comes to a grinding halt. Sure enough after landing we are told to taxi to the CDF (Central Deice Facility) and wait. I make an announcement for the passengers on the right hand side to look out and they will see 30 other airplanes waiting for a gate. Chaos. It turned out, several tornadoes had spawned. A B777 reported a funnel cloud to the north while on final approach.

Flight 470  YYZ-YOW (Ottawa)

Things at the airport had gone off the rails. The inbound Tokyo flight (B777) diverted to the small airport of YXU (London, Ontario). Many others diverted to BUF (Buffalo).  We get our flight plan after clearing customs and everything is showing on sked for us. Hmmm? I guess as I get older I get a little more cynical. We go to our gate only to find the outbound flight has not departed and there isn’t even an airplane for the posted outbound Edmonton flight. We call flight dispatch, they don’t know.  We talk to STOC (Station Operations Control), they don’t know and passengers ask us what’s going on and you guessed it, we don’t know.

— Morris, Doug.  “CYYZ (Toronto) goes off the rails – again.”  From the Flight Deck, 21 August 2009.

There’s more.  Whether you’re an aviation enthusiast or not, it’s worth reading just to understand how bad weather creates chaos for the crews, not just the passengers.

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