There's so many good commercial aviation blogs out there - mostly from the States and Canada. But none that I can see from this little island in Northern Europe. With the demise of a great blog by a BA Skipper that many I am sure followed (including me), I've decided to take on the challenge!

I hope you enjoy the commentary on all matters of civil aviation from my vantage point in the left hand seat of Virgin Atlantic's Airbuses!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Carnage Matey!

Not the best advert for the biggest most powerful aeroplane turbine out there. It's about as bad as it gets - as those failures are supposed to be contained in the casing. As you can see, it didn't happen.

A380s can operate safely on just two engines and some experts say there was no real danger. But others caution that it was more potentially dangerous than it might first appear, particularly given that sections of the blown engine could have caused more damage to the wing and that controls for the adjoining engine seem to have been damaged - which might explain why the crew are said to have been unable to shut it down on landing - with it still powered as the airfield fire service sprang into action.

Emirates doesn't have the Trent - it went with the Alliance GP7000 but the rest as far as I am aware have them.

The crew did a brilliant job in bringing her back to Singapore - some said the landing was super-smooth - which is a testament to both their skills and the aeroplane in the aftermath of what is after all a major failure.

There is more to this story than meets the eye I suspect - and you will find the commentary here as it unfolds from various sources in Toulouse and elsewhere to whom Virgin Driver has access.

What's up with the BA Cabin Crew?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Our New Commercial

It's pretty raunchy, it's very glam - and is getting mixed reviews.

What do you THINK?

Click here for the All-New 2010 Virgin Atlantic Commercial

Welcome to my second follower

Funky Town & Digital Rebel!
Enjoy the ride.
Promise lots more frequency going forward!

A380 uncontained engine failure - Qantas

Already lots of speculation as to what may have caused a newish engine (Trent 900) to fail in this catastrrophic way on the QF32. It's not supposed to happen this way - and certainly Rolls Royce (whose share price dived on news this morning) will be concerned - and so they should. Maybe 15,000 hours of use - sounds a lot doesn't it? But it's likely only 2 and a half years in. That means - questions have to be raised as far as the manufacturing integrity is concerned and then a good look at the QF maintenance (which I believe is done by Lufthansa for the A380).

All failures like this - given the flagship status of the A380 - are going to garner relentless press coverage and the key here is not to knee-jerk.

The only things that seem fairly sure at this moment are:
1. There was an uncontained engine failure, and
2. It appears to have been impossible to shut down #1 normally after landing

Thwew are some parts of the engine where a failure is not expected to be contained due to the high energy of the rotating parts. Therefore the engine is designed so these never experience a failure condition (by operation, maintenance, lifing). Equally it is not feasible to make an aircraft proof against every eventuality or it would be so heavy it wouldn't fly. The FMEA sets the severity of damage against the probability of it happening. The overall risk is mitigated by reducing the probability of the incident not protecting against its effects.
The investigators will be looking at -
1. What failed, and why, and is it a one-off?
2. Although the aircraft is not expected to withstand an uncontained engine failure is there sufficient redundancy in the engine control system?

As also indicated above the 'fail safe' condition for loss of signal to the engine control is to continue at last demanded power, it is obviously not a satisfactory condition if a single event can lead to loss of control - in which case there may be a major systems re-design on the books.

A few years ago, a Trent-700 on an Airbus A330 near Miami suffered virtually the same - and here we are again.

But to make it clear - this is the second safest method of travel in the world today - the safest being lifts (or elevators in the USA)!


I recently discovered a great friendly site set up many moons ago by Paul Wink - a purser with KLM.

It's not a rough and tumble place like pprune and seems pretty harmless and nothing more than a bit of fun.

Take a peek - and join in!


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Welcome to my first follower: Alexander Mikhajlovich!

Welcome Alexander!

I hope you enjoy the journey with the Virgin Driver.

All the best! Наилучшие пожелания

So, you want to be a flying Virgin ?

Nick Faldo in the photo above sitting in a seat reserved for the boss smiling behind!

So, things are starting to look up following some internal rumouring from the "Office" that we're off to the races looking for new hires - and it's true, we sure are. With BA rumbling about hiring, things are looking a tad more rosey who want to join one of the majors here in Blighty.

Someone said to me the other day, with the lay-offs, is Virgin going to invite them back as they have the cuture, the type ratings and are really ready to go. The answer is most likely yes, but with hefty bonds on some of the guys te timing is all off.

Here's what the text-book says regarding the minima:

* At least 2500 - 3000 hours total time
* Commercial candidates should have a minimum of 1500 hours commercial jet time (BAe 146 or above)
* UK issue JAA ATPL
* MCC qualified
* Right of abode in the EU

Reality: if you have an A330/A340 rating - and at a pinch 1800hrs + on the A320 then that gets you at the upper part of the wannabes.

Amd if you have the experience and are young enough - you could make left hand seat in just over 12 years according to the current outlook. Come at 28 and be a skipper before middle age hits you between the eyes!

All the best to those applying.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Our latest commercial

I think it's our best ever - what do you think?

What is it really like flying for Virgin?

Like every other airline in the world during the recent turbulent times, Virgin  did not escape the downturn and flight deck had to take some of the brunt of it too - with redundancy packages, guys taking reduced hours, demotions for skippers and some financial concessions too.

It did get a bit frantic where flight deck voted to take industrial action due to management not honouring an agreement on the days off we had been offered - and it was all down to an HR department who were framkly just flexing their muscles and being inept. That's why we stood up to them - because in the end enough is enough. 

For once, BALPA earned their union dues - sort of (!) and we're out the other end, generally smiling.

Some say Virgin is going to be squeezed, but we've got a good route network, good loads and I believe we're going to be ok. New destinations coming along too where the A330-300's economics make sense.

We've got Airbus A330-300s coming next year (thanks to Boeing not delivering 787s) and we might just buck the trend and go A350 - as the rumour mill is saying very sweet deals to take the A330s back and of course, the big plans are for the A380 coming on stream with very innovative new cabins.

We've lost some skippers to the low-cost carriers. The pay is about the same - roughly  £92,500 a year in my case, but for those with young families being home is much better for them. I have one teenage daughter - almost 16 - and when she was younger, the time spent down-route was a problem at times - but we coped - and I am still sporting the Virgin wings on my jacket with my seniority pretty much intact.

There's also a fair amount of positioning down route, and of course, that impacts lifestyle as well - but you take your choices and you go with it. I'm not a BA kind of guy - a bit too stuffy for me (which is an interesting admission given I was with the Royal Air Force  for 12 years), and I love the long hauls - so in terms of UK aviation Virgin Atlantic is about as perfect a fit as you can get for me anyway.

Virgin is also in the top 3 as far as salary is concerned - BA, Virgin and then Monarch.

And now - the thorny subject - time to command. You come at 25, and in the unlikely position of having the minimum requirements for being accepted, you'd get command probably somewhere between 10-14 years - that's my best guess. (It's quicker at BA these days and certainly quicker at Monarch).

I came to Virgin aged 31. I got my command in 8 years. That would never happen now. And if I was looking for a slot after my military service, I'd look to Ryanair or Easyjet - and maybe out in the Sandpit with the usual suspects of Qatar, Emirates and Ethihad.

I worry about the future for those who want to follow those of us lucky to be in the flight decks of the heavies. In North America after paying back just ludicirous training debt, flying for slave labour and then working your way up, sideways and sometimes knocked out of the seat, the dedication in following this path cannot be under-estimated. The issue is, given the career turbulence, why would anyone choose this path when they could be a lawyer or even a dentist instead?

And there lies the great conundrum of professional aviators. Why do we do it? And that will be broached soon on the Virgin Pilot!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A new design for the Virgin Birds!

What do you think of the changes? I liked the union flag on our winglets I must admit - and we're now following Emirates in having the name on our bellies!  So it's back to classic white for the main fuselage, new titles - but at least the flying lady stays...

Is this better? An update? Or not so swish?

Interested in your comments cyberfolks!

What's it like to introduce the longest civil airliner...

...which is almost 10 feet longer than the massive A380...

The Airbus A340-500 and A340-600 were launched way back in 1997, and the A340-500, just  little longer than the wheezy A340-300, was to become the world's longest range airliner, taking over 300 pssengers on trips of up to 8,700NM.  That would soon be broken with upgraded variants with even longer range.  This gave Airbus a head start over the Boeing 777LR and ER - but commercial success went to Uncle Sam with numbers entering service far eclipsing the big Airbus.

However, back in 2002, we got out first A340-600 - the longest airliner in the world - and I was on one of the first flights.  In mid-2002, we intorduced the long machine on the London-New York route - a relatively short sector for one really good reason - crews were away from base only for a day or two and the feedback and training regime intensity could be maintained.

Introducing a new aircraft is never easy - and it takes literally years of planning and perparation. The A340-600 was no exception - and some of the glitches were easier to iron out than others. It's fair to say, we had a fairly bumpy ride with the new quad-jet during the introductory period, suffering some niggling teething problems and unsatisfactory dispatch reliability. Virgin was the first operator of the type, and those following in our footsteps benefitted - with less turbulence!

The Farnborough Airshow saw us, with typical Richard gusto, take official delivery, we made a noise about "4 is better than 2" and "mine's bigger than yours" - but in the background, operationally we were quietly beavering away to get this monster in the air. On time. Without fuss.  (Now - A330s, 787s are coming along - so 2 is good now, before you say anything)!

When the -600's first service was nailed (New York), we sold it out at the same capacity as our then A340-300s - in case something went a-miss, and we had to downgrade to her older sibling. Gently did it - with one day on the run and several off.  To help cushion the -600's introduction, Airbus provided a launch team of up to 10 representatives from the manufacturer and major suppliers at Heathrow. A maintenance control operation was also set up at Airbus's Toulouse headquarters, with dedicated teams to provide support and ensure minimum response time.

Even then, it didn't all go according to plan.  Virgin chose the -600 as we had operated the -300 and commonality was a big part. The reality is the -600 is over 10 years younger than the -300 with vastly different systems and major components - let alone the size. We needed and wanted a 98% dispatch realibility which we didnt achieve until almost 6 years after introduction - and now she's a fine member of the fleet. Pireps (Pilot reports of malfunctions) per 1,000 hours are now below the 75 mark - but once again, taken longer to sort than anyone of us could have thought.

Fuel System Issues - been in the press - and here is my take.

The basic problem with the fuel system is that software faults result in the automatic systems "not putting the fuel into the right tanks". Revised software fixed it, but the various early problems culminated in a highly publicised incident involving a Virgin A340-600 that had to divert to Amsterdam earlier this year when an engine ran down due to fuel starvation. This incident resulted in Airbus advising operators to instruct crews to check fuel levels every 30min and providing details of actions if automatic transfer failed.

Those Rolls Royce Trents

Probably the biggest "system change" from the -300 to the -600 is the adoption of R-R 53,000-56,000lb thrust (236-249kN) Trent 500 engines in place of the CFM56, providing almost double the installed thrust.

One issue that has afflicted almost all Virgin's Trent engines at some point is oil degradation. The oil gets like a thick syrup and is solved after a change to the oil seal. Another issue - the compressor blade tips rubbing on the engine casing as clearance was too tight, causing damage to the blades. Again, solved in service.

Flying the A340-600

Passengers love it. But early on during the Airbus flight tests, the flexing of the forward fuselage during turbulence was an issue that we worried about. 8 years on, with the FMC software being modified, it has just not been anything to be concerned about. The acceleromerers in the engine pylons send inputs to the FMC and onto the ailerons and rudder which is an effective damping mechanism.

Back in 2002,  our initial training requirement was that pilots needed six months experience on the -300 before being eligible for a mixed fleet flying (MFF) rating on the -600, which required the differences course and two sectors on the bigger aircraft.  When the A340-600 became our fleet workhorse, we put pilots straight on to both variants with the bulk of training on -300 and then four sectors on -600 to qualify for MFF.

Taxi-ing - gulp!

Caution was and IS drilled into us when taxi-ing this monster. Already 8 years ago(!), we all went off to East Midlands Airport, to practice taxi-ing using the ground cameras - and this is the trickiest part of handling the -600. When you get used to it, and your bear in mind the bulk, then like most things it becomes second nature.

Because of the increased fuselage length and possible risk of a tailscrape, slight modifications to the fly-by-wire software have been made in the rotation law, which gives a slightly different feel over the -300, but we had no problems for any crews making the adjustment to the -600.


The -300 is gutless. No two ways - gutless and sometimes you wondered if it would ever rotate! The power from the Trents is such  that the -600 has the facility to use two thrust derates in the climb. As soon as the rate of climb drops to 1,000ft per min [5m/s], we go to the next derate.

Times move on and the A340-600 might be seen by some as a bit of a white elephant. I live and breathe them on long hauls every week - and I love them.

Is it me being old fashioned or what?

I understand image (after all, look who I work for!). We started with black unforms and gold stripes, and we're now on the latest massaging of the corporate flight deck flight here at VS with a subtly updated uniform from the one introduced in the late 90s.

Our fellow pilots at Easyjet, Monarch and BMI all still sport the classic black and gold, and the BA flightdeck are on an updated version of the blue and silver introduced in the late 1980s.

Our sister company, stateside, Virgin America - turning the generally scabby service provided by US domestic carriers on it's head - has it's own distincive look to the uniforms - but I am not convinced.

Pilots wearing leather jackets, black uniform shirts with black and white rank markings is not my cup of tea - so handing it over to you. What do you think?

Who's the dude in the black shirt at the door mama?

Almost 50 years old and still a beauty

Over 48 years ago - before I was born - hard to believe it I know - on 29th June 1962, what was Britain's answer to the world-beating Boeing 707 and its heir apparent, the Douglas DC-8 took to the skies for the very first time.

Designed by Sir George Edwards of Vickers-Armstrong, this was the great hope to catapult the UK back into the fore-front of commerical aviation following the disasters of the De Havilland Comet, and the Boeing 707 on the Atlantic run since 1958 when Pan American brought her into London Heathrow for the very first time.

The Vickers VC-10 - a type I operated in RAF service - 48 years later  - still graces the skies above Oxfordshire, with those Rolls Royce Conways shaking the countryside for miles around with a noise footprint that just would not be allowed in civilian service!

Like most British civil aviation projects, the notable exception being the HS 125 and Vickers Viscount, it was a modest success, but scores of pilots following the first flight commanded by 29 June 1962, with  Jock Bryce assisted by two other test pilots, Brian Trubshaw (Captain Concorde) and Bill Cairns loved the VC10 - as did the passengers, who marvelled at her quiet cabin. 

Remember - this is almost half a century ago - and the VC10 brought some developments to the long haul aeroplane - it brought the clean wing to the big four engined jets. The French Caravelle and the British HS Trident did it with their two and three engined designs, the Conways are up the back to keep it all pretty quiet, and you have to admit, she is the epitome of elegance. Even today.

This clean wing did bring a disadvantage - the loss of engine weight to steady the bending stresses - but aside from that, it brought to BOAC's (the forerunner of  British Airways along with BEA) route network a fine aeroplane capable of using much shorter fields than the American competition.

A 707 packed to the gunnels needed 10,000 feet (balanced) of tarmac to get into the skies, and the stadard version VC10 - over 2,000 feet less. The bigger VC10 variant (the Super) needed 9,000 feet.

The other advantage is handling. The VC10's ailerons along almost the whole length of the trailing edge and slats - the "droop snoop" along the leading edge along with spoilers on the top of the wing to shed lift - for an aircraft of its vintage - made it a delight to fly.

So here we are in the second decade of the 21st century. When I go to work, my office is a study in ultra-new technology, avionics systems with more power in one or two of their little chips than the whole of the Apollo space programme put together. When the VC10 took to the skies, it was in vanguard of the most modern silver birds connecting people and places - but still had a periscopic sextant in the flight deck roof for astro navigation!

Times may change, pilots hang up their unforms for the new guard to take over, fleets retire - but one thing remains - if you are one of the few who can see the world from on high, marvel at skyscapes and operate a complex heavier than air machine - you are a lucky lucky thing. And I count myself to be one of those!

P.S. The VC10 had another periscope too - to enable crews to see if icing conditions are affecting the T-tail!

It's not easy being in the press - ask Peter Burkill.

When you're in the limelight and not an "A" List Personality or even a "Z" List minor celeb, it's not easy.

Back in 1997 when the instant news phenomenon was either in its infancy and practically non-existent, G-VSKY under the command of our very own Tim Barnby brought his A340-300 to a perfect landing in the circumstances at Heathrow. He was given his 15 minutes of fame, time on Richard's pad on Necker with the rest of his crew and it was all pretty tasteful.

There's been a few - the famous Air Transat glide by Robert Piché and his FO  onto the Azores, good old Sully in the Hudson - both of whom did ok out of the PR. Certainly, the good old American hero made a fat wad of cash after losing both motors out of La Guardia.

And finally, there's some justice in the skies for Peter Burkill the Skipper of the BA 38 which limped home after losing all power on short finals over Hounslow. Turns out both he and his flight deck crew did everything right. And thank God for that.

I don't know Peter personally, but every professional aviator I've spoken with was disgusted at his treatement in the press, the treatment dealt out by British Airways after using him in their press damage limitation campaign and the well-known whispering campaign rumour mongering based on nothing but green eyed jealousy.

And finally, justice. After him losing his home in Worcester - no interviews with other operators because of an "incident" on his record - an incident of which the UK AIIB completely admonishes both him and his two flight deck colleagues, he is re-joining BA as a skipper on the Boeing 777.

So, Peter, everyone here at Virgin is  very very pleased with that news - and I am sure you are delighted to be back at BA and soon back in the skies.

Maybe see you on layover somewhere down route and we'll buy you a beer.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How the special people fly

I thought our Upper Class Suites, stand-up bar onboard the red and silver birds were right up there with the best business class you could hope for. I mean, where-else could you get out your seat, walk aft, perch on a stool and sip a bone dry gin martini while eating nuts?

I was recently over in Toulouse and my eyes almost popped out my head when I saw the interior drawings of what some lucky beggars will be flying in.  This my friends is what an A380 for the mega-rich is going to look like.

Rumours are out there even the next version of Airforce One will be an A380 - but that just can't be the case...the whole of the States would be in mutiny! A 747-8 will be up next to take the temporary White House resident across the globe.

As for me, I'm happy with the vista from the pointy end, and getting paid to see skyscape upon skyscape. Mind you, a sleep in that bed rather than the crew rest compartment is a very inviting prospect!

To get things started - suggestions, if you puhlease!

I guess I could sit in front of the PC and whack out screeds of posts, get repetitive strain injury in the process, along with a set of crooked eyes!

If there is anyone out there in Cyberspace reading this (there has to be one surely!), let me know what you want to see on this Virgin blog what will make it interesting, boring or anything in between.

So many good blogs from State-side, but virtually nada from the island of bangers of mash, jellied eels, warm beer and pretty shitty weather!

Look forward to seeing the suggestions flow!

Hello, good evening, afternoon or morning - no matter where you are!

How many more aviation blogs can the web sustain? 

I'm hoping one more as I've been egged on to give a flavour of life up te front of the red and silver birds from what I genuinely think is one of the most progressive and polished airlines in the world (but I would say that wouldn't I).

There's very few commercial aviation blogs out there from the UK and with the demise of my favourite blog from the competition over at Speedbird,  I think someone should step up to the plate and fly the union flag from on high to give a very British spin on the airline world.

It's been a bumpy ride for the industry of late and getting into commercial aviation with all the pitfalls and disasters befalling XL, Globespan, some pretty terrible treatment of the guys over at BMI - and that's just the recent past - is certainly not for those who are not 100 per cent dedicated and focused on achieving their aim to operate exciting, complex and amazing machines across the skies.  It's still an exciting and glam career choice and every day I am in the skies, I still pinch myself!

I'll be happy to give running commentaries on our travels on the world's air routes, throw in some tidbits on my time flying the VC10s (soon history as the Airbus comes to Brize) as well as provide any information I can for those who want to get their very own set of shiny wings and take to the skies.

I hope you'll all have fun following my colleagues and I around the skies, which may include a guest column or two from the guys over at Galactic as the blogging settles down.

Welcome to yet another aviation blog - but I hope I can make it a little different to keep you all on your toes.