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Cross the Pond 2014 - The excitement

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Twice each year VATSIM holds an event called "cross the pond," where ATC services are staffed from specific airports on one continent, all the way across the Atlantic to destination airports. After hearing such good things, I figured I'd join in. 


Preflight - With trans-oceanic flights, the preflight preparation is where almost all of the work is done. The release is chock full of information that produces one very important number: fuel load. 


The CTP website assigns you a route for the event based on traffic load- so many people are performing the atlantic crossing that it would be impractical to let people decide on their own track as this would cause traffic conflicts. There are also a few tracks available for those that want to participate in the event but weren't able to secure a slot. 


To give you an idea of how much traffic: 




I guess this might be even a little more traffic than occurs in the real world- but the  "overload" is what is part of the fun. It provides some operational challenges to the pilot:


- Will I be able to get step climbs from my assigned altitude for more fuel efficiency? 


- How much fuel should I add for delays, holding, being "stuck down low,"  taxi out etc...


Here was my assignment:




TMI doesn't mean "too much information" here! It is used to let the controllers know you posess the latest track message- since the tracks change slightly each day. My routing from Boston takes me quite a ways up to the north, entering oceanic airspace at a fix named ALLRY, exiting at DOGAL. Track "sierra."



In the weather room I'm a bit thankful for the northerly routing. The southern latitudes would put us through some widespread areas of moderate turbulence, CB development, fronts. Despite the longer flight time, it'll be worth it when one considers passenger comfort. 


The dispatcher planned our crossing at M .85 today- not a "fuel conservative" speed by any means, but a speed that will hopefully make up some time on the track. 


If you'd like to take a "gander" at my release, it's available here. 




A couple things discussed today were the ETOPS alternates. During the period of use (approx 18Z - 22z), weather at these airports must be at or above our OpsSpec C055 alternate minimums (way beyond the scope of this post!) at takeoff. Our usual alternates- Gander, St. Johns, Halifax were experiencing low ceilings and gusty conditions. An alternate of Goose Bay would be more fitting. Also, our destination alternate of EDDN- while not ideal, fit the legal requirements. 


A fuel buffer of 1hr of holding fuel was added for delays, as well as an extra 2000lbs "grandmother fuel."


Here's an overview of the weather graphics for our route- remember, we're on track S. 





Not much going on in the S track. 




You can clearly see the turbulence associated with that weather, from the FL330 forecast:




As we exit the track system, we might get some bumps from the associated storm system over scotland... But the tailwinds should pick up as we get past our Equal Time Point (ETP). The red outlined areas are the "Shear" levels- higher the number, the more turbulence associated. 




One final chart is pretty important- 10,000ft winds. Why 10k you ask? We'll be up at FL330! In case of an engine failure, especially depressurization- we won't be able to stay at FL330, and would have to descend and proceed to our alternate. It's important to know generally where the winds are blowing, and if icing is going to be a concern during a prolonged cruise at that altitude. 






So now we have the full picture. Let's head out to the airplane. 


Currently a lineup of about 30 aircraft exists- Gate hold procedures in effect. From what I heard, other cross the pond airports were much smoother in their departures.





Finishing boarding...





Here's my "home setup" - I'm trying out an EFB today instead of my usual laptop. 




As I pushed back, still quite a line for departures- and since my takeoff slot was quite a ways behind us, I was able to get priority and "cut the line" to depart off of 22L, crossing 22R at F. Below is the highlighted route. 








As you can see on departure- still quite a few waiting patiently to go....






Soaring over Newfoundland ....





Other traffic visible joining, leaving my track...








Diligently filling out fuel hacks, SLOPing to the right to avoid wake turbulence from preceeding aircraft. 







Descent and landing were busy, as the weather was "not quite VFR" and the pictures would show quite a bit of black. However, a final shot at the gate after shutdown. 







Type rated: SF34 / DH8 (Q400) / DC9 717 MD-88/ B767 (CFI/II/MEI/ATP)

Majestic Software Q400 Beta Team / Pilot Consultant / Twitter @violinvelocity

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