After having flown the A330-200 only for the last couple of months it was time again to do my line check on the A321. If i pass this line check then i am able to participate in the mixed fleet flying we do i.e. flying both the A320/A321 and A330 mixed.
I really enjoyed the couple of months on long haul only, but it is a nice change to do a short haul flight. And off course it makes the missus a bit happier if I am home a bit more then I have been doing the last couple of months.
Report time for my flight (ZB746) LGW-FAO was 12:45Z with a take-off time of 14:00Z. However because I had not been in the office for quite a long time I reported at 12:15Z. At least this gave me some time to go through the paperwork in my crew file. Unfortunately there wasn’t much in my crew file except the normal updates we receive for our technical/operational books. With not much else to do I printed out our crew list for the day and had a quick glance over it if I knew anybody on our crew. Luckily I knew the training captain and I could remember a few of our cabin crew from the last long haul trip I’ve done. Training captain is a very nice guy and I really looked forward to this flight. On a closer inspection of the crew list I found out we also carried a safety pilot. This was due the fact that I haven’t flown the A320/A321 for more than three months and a safety pilot is required on your first flight. As a coincidence this safety pilot joined the company just under a year ago and on his first flight I was his safety pilot. It is a small world after all.
With all the information we need on the crew list I went over to our computer to print out our flight plans, NOTAMS and relevant weather. No specials on this flight with a fairly new A321 (G-OZBF). Aircraft had no technical snag that we need to take into account during our pre-flight planning. However weather wise was a whole different story. Forecast weather for Faro (Portugal) FAO was not good at all with a forecast wind of 35 knots almost 80 degrees to the runway. Which is very close to the aircrafts crosswind limits. Together with this wind was a forecasted cloud base of a 100ft. Not a nice day at all. Later during the day the weather would clear up. Our first diversion airport is LIS (Lisbon) and the weather over there was better. So we decided to take some additional fuel in case we needed to take up a holding pattern.
When we finished our pre-flight planning the safety pilot reported for duty and we quickly brought him up to speed on the weather and our fuel decision. With that done we all went down to take the bus which brings us to the aircraft. On arrival at the aircraft it looks relatively small compared to the A330 which I was used to.
In the office we already decided that I should fly the LGW-FAO leg and the captain would fly the FAO-LGW leg. So it was my turn to prepare the flight deck whilst the captain did the walk around. Flight deck preparation is almost the same as on the A330 due to the similar flight deck layout.
Boarding went quickly because we only had a light load and our push back was on time. Runway 26L was in use today which only requires a 4 to 5 minute taxi from our stand. Once at the holding point we needed to wait till a BA 737 took off and after another BA 737 landed we were cleared to line up. After a short period on the runway, whilst waiting for the BA 737 to clear the runway, we were cleared for take-off. I set our take-off thrust and off we went. After a normal rotation we followed our SID towards the SAM (Southampton) VOR and climbing up to an altitude of 3000ft. Most departures of LGW have a stepped climb due to the huge amount of traffic in the vicinity and the close proximity of airways. On arrival at the SAM VOR we make a left hand turn to cross the channel in the direction of the channel islands and the Brest peninsula (France). After crossing the Brest peninsula the routing normally continues across the Bay of Biscay making landfall in western Spain around the AVS (Aviles) area. Shortly afterwards we are handed over from the Spanish to the Portuguese and they normally clear us straight to the 12 mile DME fix for the runway in use. Today the runway in use was runway 28.
During the flight as being the PF I needed to have a quick word with the passengers regarding our routing, expected time of arrival and the forecast weather. In the mean time the PNF does the company calls and listens to the VOLMETS to get the latest weather from the airports that we fly over in case of a diversion. Fortunately on the Santiago VOLMET it also gives the FAO weather which was better than the forecast. The actual weather was 210/21 with a visibility of 2500 meters in rain and cloud base of 400ft. So we knew that we would be able to land and the risk of holding or a diversion became smaller. However due to this weather the company requires us to do a monitored approach which means that one pilots flies the approach and once visual the other pilot takes over an does the landing. So the first thing the captain asked is: ‘What would you like to do?’. Normally I would like to do the crosswind landings because it doesn’t happen to often that the wind is that strong and 70 degrees to the runway. But after not having flown the aircraft for several months I thought I would be a better decision to let the captain do the landing while I flew the approach. We all agreed in this plan and I briefed the rest of the crew on the arrival procedure. Which is very ease. Fly straight to the 12 DME fix for the runway and than make a right hand turn to intercept and follow the localiser. The only thing you need to worry about is the rate of descent because there is a ridge which runs east-west and can trigger the EGPWS.
During the descent whilst passing 5000ft the approach controller handed us over to the tower. The captain gave the Tower a call that we were right hand base for runway 28. The tower cleared us to land on runway 28 and gave us the latest wind (200/20) and visibility (2000 meters in rain). On our Navigation Display we got a wind readout based on the IRS system and it said 210/35. Once we were established on the glide slope and visual with the runway the captain took control but at this stage we had quite a big drift angle due to the wind still showing 210/32. We were now passing 300ft and the ND still showed a wind of 210/30. After a very nice cross wind landing we all agreed that the wind was higher than the 20 knots which the tower gave us. At this stage a was pleased with my decision to let the captain do the landing.
After a quick turn around and my turn to do the walk around in torrential rain we took off for our flight back to LGW. The return routing is very similar to the outbound routing and the duty allocation is the same.
The return journey was uneventful with another monitored approach so I could take over to do the landing. During our flight LGW decided to swap runways and was now landing on runway 08R and because it was not busy we got a straight in approach which can shave up to 10 minutes of our flight time. Weather in LGW was fine and we were visual with the runway from the moment we established on the localiser. To get a feel for the aircraft I took over control at 2000ft and flew it manual for the last part of the flight. Nicely aligned with the centreline I flared around 20ft. But this being an A321 it needs a bit more back stick than an A330 so it was a firm touchdown which ruined my day.
Because the A330 has such a big wing it produces a lot of ground effect therefore assisting in the flare. However as described above the A321 does not do this and (for my feeling) requires a bit more back stick. But hey, it can happen to the best.
In the end my line check papers were signed and the next day I did another A321 flight and this time with a smooth landing.