"I'm currently still in one piece, writing from my room in the Narita crew hotel. It's 8am. This is my inaugural trans-pacific trip as a brand new, recently checked out, international 767 Captain and it has been interesting, to say the least, so far. I've crossed the Atlantic three times so far so the ocean crossing procedures were familiar.
By the way, stunning scenery flying over the Aleutian Islands. Everything was going fine until 100 miles out from Tokyo and in the descent for arrival. The first indication of any trouble was that Japan air traffic control started putting everyone into holding patterns. At first we thought it was usual congestion on arrival. Then we got a company data link message advising about the earthquake, followed by another stating Narita airport was temporarily closed for inspection and expected to open shortly (the company is always so positive).
From our perspective things were obviously looking a little different. The Japanese controller's anxiety level seemed quite high and he said expect "indefinite" holding time. No one would commit to a time frame on that so I got my copilot and relief pilot busy looking at divert stations and our fuel situation, which, after an ocean crossing is typically low.
It wasn't long, maybe ten minutes, before the first pilots started requesting diversions to other airports. Air Canada, American, United, etc. all reporting minimal fuel situations. I still had enough fuel for 1.5 to 2.0 hours of holding. Needless to say, the diverts started complicating the situation.
Japan air traffic control then announced Narita was closed indefinitely due to damage. Planes immediately started requesting arrivals into Haneada, near Tokyo, a half dozen JAL and western planes got clearance in that direction but then ATC announced Haenada had just closed. Uh oh! Now instead of just holding, we all had to start looking at more distant alternatives like Osaka, or Nagoya.
One bad thing about a large airliner is that you can't just be-pop into any little airport. We generally need lots of runway. With more planes piling in from both east and west, all needing a place to land and several now fuel critical ATC was getting over-whelmed. In the scramble, and without waiting for my fuel to get critical, I got my flight a clearance to head for Nagoya, fuel situation still okay. So far so good. A few minutes into heading that way, I was"ordered" by ATC to reverse course. Nagoya was saturated with traffic and unable to handle more planes (read- airport full). Ditto for Osaka.
With that statement, my situation went instantly from fuel okay, to fuel minimal considering we might have to divert a much farther distance. Multiply my situation by a dozen other aircraft all in the same boat, all making demands requests and threats to ATC for clearances somewhere. Air Canada and then someone else went to "emergency" fuel situation. Planes started to heading for air force bases. The nearest to Tokyo was Yokoda AFB. I threw my hat in the ring for that initially. The answer - Yokoda closed! no more space.
By now it was a three ring circus in the cockpit, my copilot on the radios, me flying and making decisions and the relief copilot buried in the air charts trying to figure out where to go that was within range while data link messages were flying back and forth between us and company dispatch in Atlanta. I picked Misawa AFB at the north end of Honshu island. We could get there with minimal fuel remaining. ATC was happy to get rid of us so we cleared out of the maelstrom of the Tokyo region. We heard ATC try to send planes toward Sendai, a small regional airport on the coast which was later the one I think that got flooded by a tsunami.
Atlanta dispatch then sent us a message asking if we could continue to Chitose airport on the Island of Hokkaido, north of Honshu. Other Delta planes were heading that way. More scrambling in the cockpit - check weather, check charts, check fuel, okay. We could still make it and not be going into a fuel critical situation ... if we had no other fuel delays. As we approached Misawa we got clearance to continue to Chitose. Critical decision thought process. Let's see - trying to help company - plane overflies perfectly good divert airport for one farther away...wonder how that will look in the safety report, if anything goes wrong.
Suddenly ATC comes up and gives us a vector to a fix well short of Chitose and tells us to standby for holding instructions. Nightmare realized. Situation rapidly deteriorating. After initially holding near Tokyo, starting a divert to Nagoya, reversing course back to Tokyo then to re-diverting north toward Misawa, all that happy fuel reserve that I had was vaporizing fast. My subsequent conversation, paraphrased of course...., went something like this:
"Sapparo Control - Delta XX requesting immediate clearance direct to Chitose, minimum fuel, unable hold."
"Negative Ghost-Rider, the Pattern is full" <<< top gun quote <<<
"Sapparo Control - make that - Delta XX declaring emergency, low fuel, proceeding direct Chitose"
"Roger Delta XX, understood, you are cleared direct to Chitose, contact Chitose approach....etc...."
Enough was enough, I had decided to preempt actually running critically low on fuel while in another indefinite holding pattern, especially after bypassing Misawa, and played my last ace...declaring an emergency. The problem with that is now I have a bit of company paperwork to do but what the heck.
As it was - landed Chitose, safe, with at least 30 minutes of fuel remaining before reaching a "true" fuel emergency situation. That's always a good feeling, being safe. They taxied us off to some remote parking area where we shut down and watched a half dozen or more other airplanes come streaming in. In the end, Delta had two 747s, my 767 and another 767 and a 777 all on the ramp at Chitose. We saw to American airlines planes, a United and two Air Canada as well. Not to mention several extra Al Nippon and Japan Air Lines planes.
Post-script - 9 hours later, Japan air lines finally got around to getting a boarding ladder to the plane where we were able to get off and clear customs. - that however, is another interesting story.
By the way - while writing this - I have felt four additional tremors that shook the hotel slightly - all in 45 minutes.
Wisecrack, yes. Since i'm not an airline pilot or ATCr and have nothing to boast. chest thumping it is not.Dockjock wrote:despite heliian's chest thumping).
+1 for me.I enjoyed that. Thanks for the re-post Naveed.
Yes he did divert to Chitose, but I highly doubt that the aircraft stayed there very long...I'm sure they went to Narita as soon as the airport re-opened. Chitose was a diversion and not their final destination. Much like Gander and St. John's during 9/11, once they got the chance, they were out of there. Also, while in Chitose I'm sure he was busy with paper work and figuring/finding out what was going on and wouldn't have had time to write a short story while spending 9 hours in the airplane on the ramp. As for the similar stories, I haven't read any of them, but I'm pretty sure EVERY airplane in the sky over japan was having a SIMILAR situation...read exact same.
My 2 cents is that even if this isn't actually written by a delta pilot, it is NOT BS. I'm sure this exact situation happened in nearly every cockpit over Japan and the pilots, along with ATC should be applauded for their professionalism and a job very well done.
GRK wrote:Nope...Two very important words...DUTY TIME! Can't make it work...
Seems to me they would have had a minimum of 16hours duty available to them. Now I realize there was no mention of the point of departure, the difference between departing from BOS vs. SFO would be significant. Also, IMHO, I think this would fall under the extenuating circumstances for flight duty time extension. Just pointing out possibilities...my copilot on the radios, me flying and making decisions and the relief copilot buried in the air charts
On a note of which airline this Capt. is from (AA or DL), Delta's hub is ATL. This appears to support the Delta side.
Atlanta dispatch then sent us a message
- Picture 1.png (33.46 KiB) Viewed 1309 times
The Clock Is Ticking: Inside the Cockpit of a Japan-Bound Airliner During the Quake
Writer’s Note: This article is a reaction piece to the events that were posted online by a Delta pilot detailing the events surrounding the diversion of an aircraft as a result of the tragic earthquake in Japan. The intention of this article is not to critique the actions of the crew, nor to be a Monday morning quarterback. Rather, this piece is meant to truly bring the reader into the cockpit during what must have been a stressful time. To be clear, I do not have any idea what actually went on in the cockpit in terms of procedures, conversation, or thought. The description of events in this article that unfold in the cockpit ARE NOT what actually happened. They are simply what I, in my professional opinion, imagine might have occurred.
You have finally made it. After a lifetime of working so hard in the aviation world, you have finally made it to the coveted left seat of an international widebody airliner. Time to kickback, relax, and cash that first international captain paycheck! Life couldn’t be better.
You are barely a month out of training, still wet behind the ears and getting accustomed to life on the line being the boss. You have noticed that flying internationally presents its own unique circumstances that a typical domestic pilot isn’t used to such as position reports, flying in a non-radar environment, CPDLC (pilot to ATC text messaging), new countries, and the ever difficult task of decoding the multitude of different accents on each of the routes you fly.
As you sit in your perch above the Pacific Ocean, you think life is good. With a sip of your coffee you begin to brief the arrival into Tokyo a little earlier than normal, as it is your first time operating here as a Captain. Tokyo has its demands like every airport, but today the weather is good, and the arrival should not present any abnormal situations. The co-pilots that you are working with today have been here before and brief you on all the serious nuances that this airport presents. They tell you that it is not atypical to get holding this time of day when all of the other airliners from North America arrive after long, ten plus hour flights. They tell you about the heinous conditions that can confront the airport on occasions resulting in incredibly strong wind-shear conditions and rain. They make sure you see the little note on the approach chart for Runway 34L that tells you to lower the gear before 14DME so that ice blocks don’t fall from the landing gear to the ground below you.
You are satisfied that you are all properly briefed and with the push of a button, the B767-300ER starts its descent into Tokyo. Things are progressing normally when out of nowhere you are instructed by air traffic control (ATC) to expect holding for Narita. As previously discussed, this is probably due to traffic but it doesn’t matter. Hearing the word “Hold” in the cockpit of an airliner is like saying “sit” to a well trained dog. You get an automatic shifting of mindset and procedure that entails that you spring to action. You automatically begin thinking of all of your contingencies. You begin slowing the aircraft and figuring out how much fuel you have and how long you can hold for. You start to look at your alternates in case you get down to a fuel critical situation. Just that simple word, “Hold”, gets the attention of all three crewmembers and results in the beginning of some serious work. It is O.K. though, because this is just because of some traffic congestion today. In just a few minutes you will be released from the hold and before you know it you will be eating a bowl of Ramen at an excellent little noodle shop the first officers have told you about during the flight! Or so you think.
As you and the crew figure out the length of time you can hold for, a chime rings out in the cockpit indicating an ACARS message from Flight Operations in Atlanta. They have advised you that a large earthquake has hit Japan and that Narita is temporarily closed but should open relatively soon. You have assessed the fuel load and have determined that you have approximately two hours of hold fuel, however, being proactive you don’t want to sit up here for two hours and have no options. To further complicate the issue, ATC has advised that you can expect indefinite holding for Narita. You ask the copilot to request clearance to Haneda, the alternate airport for the flight. Before he can get a word in, a multitude of other airlines begin requesting reroutes and diversions as well. This is not good. For an airline pilot, when conditions start to go south, you want to ideally be the first to head to the diversion airport as that will fill up and get congested very quickly.
You have the relief pilot start to figure out some alternate diversion airports in the event we cannot make it into Haneda. The air traffic controllers are being inundated with requests from everyone and advises that Haneda is closed as well. The next best option is to head south towards the cities of Osaka and Nagoya. Both are large, modern airports that are more then equipped to handle a B767. If one of those closes, surely the other will be available, you think to yourself. You request a reroute and are given a clearance to Osaka. Time for another assessment of the fuel. All is well, although the fuel is decreasing you still have more than enough to get to Osaka and have plenty of reserve fuel.
As you continue towards the new destination you can hear United, Air Canada, Continental, and other company aircraft all scurrying to other airports from the Tokyo area. You and the crew are at ease again knowing that you will be on the ground shortly. Unfortunately, ATC did not get the memo. You are advised that due to diversions both Osaka and Nagoya are closed! State your intentions! Now you are in a very serious situation. The relief pilot is already looking up other options and getting new weather reports. He is on top of his game! As this is happening, you hear a few other airliners are in a state of emergency! Numerous aircraft are declaring fuel emergencies and being vectored to military bases. You decide to proceed back north towards Yokota Air Force Base but are told that is closed as well!
Now this situation is starting to truly get serious. At this point you know you have the option of declaring a fuel emergency as well, but you are not quite at that point yet. Despite the long distance to fly back north towards Tokyo, you and the crew make a final decision to divert to Misawa Air Force Base. That is it. No matter what we are going to Misawa. We have the fuel and as of now it is open. The other flight crew members are happy with this and you proceed towards the new alternate.
What the passengers don’t see are the lumps that have been in the throats of all three crewmembers or the changed reactions due to the elevated stress levels the pilots are facing. Behind the cockpit door, all is well in the cabin. With a new, final game plan, and enough fuel to do it, the stress level slowly decreases in the cockpit. You have the relief pilot advise Atlanta via ACARS that you are proceeding towards Misawa when they decide to throw one more curveball.
Atlanta has requested that you see if you can continue to Sapporo, Japan and make a landing at Chitose Airport on Hokkaido Island. In concurrence with the other first officers you determine that this is possible with absolutely no other delays or holding, but barely.
The Delta captain’s article very clearly explains the thought process for his decision:
As we approached Misawa we got clearance to continue to Chitose. Critical decision thought process. Let’s see – trying to help company – plane overflies perfectly good divert airport for one farther away…wonder how that will look in the safety report, if anything goes wrong.
This clearly shows what this flight crew was thinking. Do you land at a safe, non-commercially preferred military base with excess gas, or stretch it to make a company airfield in hopes that nothing goes wrong? This Captain, on the definite concurrence of his crew decided to push on one last time. Had any crewmember at this point raised an objection, they would have simply landed at Misawa.
Back on the flight deck, the decision has been made to continue to Chitose. You cannot accept any delays due to the now dwindling fuel supply. You WILL be landing now matter what. However, once again Air Traffic Control has other plans for you. You are once again of advised of indefinite holding. The hell with that you think. You advise ATC that you are declaring a fuel emergency and that you cannot accept any delays. Magically, ATC clears you direct to Sapporo. After zigzagging north and south along the country side of Japan and burning tons of precious Jet-A you finally extend the landing gear and land on Runway 01R.
As you taxi in to the gate all three of you breathe a huge sigh of relief knowing you are safely on the ground. You have just about an hour’s worth of fuel left in the tanks, not much. The heart rates slow and gradually you all are relaxed again. The only issue now is that there is no gate to park at as there are numerous other airlines that have diverted here as well. That is the least of your concern as you taxi to a spot on the ramp, shut down the engines and advise the passengers to sit tight and that it is going to be a while until you can disembark. A whole new nightmarish scenario is awaiting you as you will have to deal with sitting on the ground for approximately nine hours before that is allowed to happen. For this new Captain, I’m sure the events that unfolded on this day are more than enough to keep you satisfied with abnormal events for a long time to come.
On the afternoon of March 11th, this exact scenario began to unfold in the cockpit of a Delta Airlines Boeing 767-300ER inbound to Tokyo. The Captain was a relatively new one, having only been online in the left seat for about one month. This was his first trip to the Pacific Rim in the left seat. It is not clear from his write up if he had been to Japan before. The events that began to unfold were the perfect ingredients that airline training departments build LOFT (Line Oriented Flight Training) scenarios around. LOFT scenarios are simulator events that are typically constructed using an actual flight that has had some sort of “event” and the result is the trainees have to handle the scenario and land safely. In this case, the “event” was the massive earthquake and the resultant actions taken by the crew to get the aircraft onto the ground safely. The crew was faced with a multitude of options, a decreasing fuel load, minimal information, and an unfamiliar area of the world. The environment on the flight deck was no doubt, quite stressful.
This is not the first time, nor will it be the last time that multiple flight crews are confronted with an extreme scenario of a massive catastrophe causing mass diversions. The most obvious other example would be the events of 9/11 and the mandatory closure of US Airspace resulting in hundreds of diverted airliners to all parts of the world. Some landed in Canada, some landed in Greenland, and many others simply diverted back to Europe. What the public sees are the pictures of hundreds of airplanes stacked wingtip to wingtip down the available taxiways and runways that had been turned into parking lots. What they don’t see is the call to action that goes on in the front of the ship when a crew is faced with a rapidly changing situation, especially when they are not provided with a lot of information and when the fuel supply is dwindling.
For the crew of the Delta flight going into Japan, the timing of the event could not have been worse as they were nearing the end of a ten hour trans-pacific flight. They were at a relatively low fuel state and were presented with limited options. Taking into account all of the external factors that affected the flight, this crew handled this situation as well as any crew could be asked to. They stayed calm, made good decisions based on their current fuel state and when they were finally backed into a corner, made the ultimate decision that no matter what, they would be landing. That is why it is called Captain’s Authority. Sometimes it needs to be used and this was a textbook time to use it. Kudos to the flight crew for a job well done. Like they say in aviation, you typically earn your salary on one flight a year, and this was definitely it.
NYCAviation Columnist Justin Schlechter is a First Officer for a major international airline. You can read more of his writing on his Positive Rate blog.
http://nycaviation.com/2011/03/the-cloc ... the-quake/
@#$! you ATC didn't crash a plane they did a good job in the priority sequencing. you don't like it yopu can accept it or suck my dick either way they did good.When a region starts closing up due to weather or earthquake, declaring an emergency is often the only way one can indicate to ATC that eventually, one will be landing. Clearance to proceed becomes a legal concept to be ignored if utterly necessary, while one is in the process of alighting back upon earth while the engines are still running. Pattern is full? Sorry don't care, landing. Earned their pay indeed, with honours. Nicely done by all (ATC included, despite heliian's chest thumping).
Wow relax. I am pretty sure Citation did comment that ATC was doing a good job. But you could just swear at him anyways. Declaring an emergency does put you up higher on the list in priority sequencing. ATC can't see each plane's full level, they have to rely on the pilots. So declaring an emergency basically tells ATC "we need to get down now." ATC doesn't want to land someone with 2 hours left of fuel when another plane in the hold is just burning fumes.SII wrote:@#$! you ATC didn't crash a plane they did a good job in the priority sequencing. you don't like it yopu can accept it or suck my dick either way they did good.When a region starts closing up due to weather or earthquake, declaring an emergency is often the only way one can indicate to ATC that eventually, one will be landing. Clearance to proceed becomes a legal concept to be ignored if utterly necessary, while one is in the process of alighting back upon earth while the engines are still running. Pattern is full? Sorry don't care, landing. Earned their pay indeed, with honours. Nicely done by all (ATC included, despite heliian's chest thumping).