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Its A Boring Job


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Recently I attended a wedding, and is as usual at a wedding, the time is good to meet new people and catch up with old family and friends. Most of the day spent on introductions and catching up on all the latest.


I started to speak with one young lass whom had just left home for the first time, and begun their first year of University, wide eyed and eager for what the world has to offer. She started to tell me all the ins ands outs of the courses she was doing and how exciting statistical mathematics is etc.


When the time came to discuss what it is I do for a living, a question from which the most seasoned pilots start diving for cover, and usually begins by coming up with job descriptions which would be more suited to the occasion to keep the conversation running, ie high speed aluminum tubing, or best yet, the local garbage collector (always seems to bring more respect then coming out of the closet and declaring you spend your career as a Pilot). But in this instance, being around new family and all, one decides to own up to the truth and mention the dreaded words, "I'm a Pilot".


Too quick you realize why it is you resort to ripping off your epaulets the minute you walk through those airport doors towards the car park ready to go home, in case the world spots you in your full uniform outside of work.


"Mmm, a pilot hey, damn what a boring job, all you guys must do is sit there watch dials all day and drink coffee to stay awake." "ah, yeah, that's right, you got it in one, pretty boring job indeed" you hear oneself utter, as the sounds from the party drain away and the events from the week before the party start to re-run through your mind as you recall just how boring your job can be.


...... continues next post



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Meanwhile, as words of the most awesome uni party goes in one ear and out the other.....


The day started out like any other day, the clock beside the bed falls to the floor as one scrambles to tap the snooze button on that nasty excuse for an alarm clock.


Have to get into work early today to attend a meeting with the DFO (Director of Flight Operations) regarding some issues before assuming command of the days scheduled flight to Changmai.


The meeting goes well, though it soon starts to drag on, as the topics of discussion become more heated and colorful, the briefing room officer comes in frantically looking for one particular captain, to inform him that the transport to the airport is ready and his crew are awaiting.


Great!!! ( I don't usually like attending meetings before a flight for this very reason, as it induces rushed briefings, and thoughts of the meeting tend to replace the thoughts that should be spent on the job.) A few deep breaths, clear thoughts, clear thoughts, sincere apologies to the crew, and then proceed to discuss the plan for the day in the back of the merc, as we head towards the Airport.


After going through the flight plan, discussion is quickly made regarding the amount of fuel flight operations has allowed, for planning to the Alternate. Minimum fuel planning is always one area constantly fought between pilots and planning. An incident years ago has left a lasting impression on the need to carry sufficient fuel (extra fuel = extra time to make decisions). It is agreed! An extra tonne of gas is added to the fuel load to satisfy the "Mum and the Kids" factor.





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What a nice looking plane the E-Jet is.....


The Chep Lap Kok airport terminal is truly a site to behold, one of the worlds largest enclosed spaces. Never fails to impress as one walks through the doors down towards the immigration offices, strip down for security, put oneself back together, and on towards the Gate.


The aircraft today is parked on a remote bay, and requires passengers and crew to be ferried to the plane via car and bus. Sitting at gate 13 waiting for menzies to come collect the crew is becoming a little annoying as fifteen minutes of preparation time is being wasted away. Finally after many phone calls, a vehicle arrives to take us to the Aircraft.




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No time to waste, climb aboard, into the cockpit and begin powering up the Embraer E170. (Part computer part plane, Embraer's term E-jet is true)



Batteries 1 and 2 selected to on, and then wait approximately 1 minute, whilst the aircraft boots up (yes, just like windows - modern day aircraft!!). Messages start displaying on the EICAS, great, time to start the APU. Its the First Officers Sector, so time to run outside do the walk around, remove the pins from the undercarriage, and set the fuel bugs, to begin refueling.


Meanwhile, back in the cockpit a spurious caution message appears on the EICAS "TRU 1 Fail" mmm never seen that one before, calls for the QRH. Turn off associated TRU, wait one minute, then cycle back to on. After three resets, its time to call for the engineers. So the TRU 1 switch position is set to off.



Now is probably a good time as any, to highlight the point that the Embraer E-Jet is very much an electrical aircraft. It has many electrical systems and backups in place, and all switchings in the event of failure are automated. It relies on DC and AC power, and has 3 TRU's (Transformer Rectifier Units - AC to DC) Everything is computer controlled, even the light dimmer switches pass through the computer before it affects the light. If you move the switch fast enough, you can see the lag.


15 minutes later the engineer arrives at the aircraft. Inquires as to the nature of the problem in his best asian to english translations, and promptly informs the captain, the reason why the TRU 1 has failed, is because it has been selected to the off position. No matter how many words and gestation's are passed to indicate the fact that it had been deliberately selected to that position for a reason, the Tech Log is signed off, and airship is good to go.


20 minutes later, passengers have boarded and aircraft is taxiing on its way to the departure runway.


All the pre-takeoff checks complete, cleared to line up behind the Cathay 747 line up behind.


A nice uneventful take off and departure, as soon as we pass 12000 feet, we pop out of the thick grey smog blanket, into a nice sunny blue day.


Yep, shall be calling for that nice warm coffee in no time.



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The flight From Hong Kong to Changmai takes approximately 2 1/2 hours and you pass through 5 countries and many FIRs to get there. Changmai is one of Thailand's tourist destinations, and is quite a tranquil place to take the family for a ride on the elephants.


Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in Northern Thailand, and the capital of Chiang Mai Province. It is located 700 km north of Bangkok, among some of the highest mountains in the country. The city stands on the Ping river, a major tributary of the Chao Phraya river.

In recent years Chiang Mai has become an increasingly modern city, although it lacks the cosmopolitan gloss of Bangkok. It has many attractions for the thousands of foreign visitors who come to the city each year. Chiang Mai's historic strength derived from its important strategic location on an ancient trade route, and long before the modern influx of foreign visitors the city served as an important centre for handcrafted goods, umbrellas, jewellery (particularly silver) and woodcarving

The different accents from the controllers on each of these FIR's sure takes some time getting used to. Is an interesting trip, as each transfer requires something different, passing from one FIR to the Next usually involves a change in flight levels, as flying through Chinese Airspace requires cruising at a level in Meters, and the rest of the FIRs are in feet. Some of the FIR's have RVSM levels, and others don't. So it can keep you busy.


As we cross into Vietnam Airspace, we begin to notice we have some work ahead of us. Coming into range on the Radar are many blotches of flashing red, indicating some quite impressive thunderstorm activity. This is usual this time of year, and the FO is quite adept at picking a smooth path between these towering beauties.


Finally we are transferred onto Thailand Control frequency and cleared for a descent into Changmai. The FO initiates the descent, and I wait for the ATIS to come into range so that I can copy it down.



Changmai has one airstrip that runs alongside quite a large hill, very similar to the hill that resides next to the International Airport in Cairns. It has one ILS approach and a VOR. Most approaches to the airfield are made from the south due to the high terrain to the north. It also supports a radar facility and the controllers seem quite comfortable in guiding you to the IAF for the approach under radar vector.



This particular day, the ILS aid has been NOTAMed as being under maintenance, and can be made operational upon request.


After writing down all the particulars from the ATIS, it appears that the weather is actually quite marginal for a VOR approach, with the cloud base being reported at the minima. So upon first contact with Changmai Approach, a request is made for the ILS. But of Course..... "Negative, make VOR approach" is given.


A briefing is made for the approach with particular emphasis made on the possibility of conducting a missed approach.



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support support, is anyone going to support


The FO is a very bright young chap, born and bred in hong kong, and only a few years younger than I. But still young enough to believe in the fact that we are immortal and nothing will ever happen to us, it is from this perspective that i look at him, seeing his arm on the thrust lever like it is an armrest waiting to disconnect the autothottle for the landing.


As we approach the minima, I call to get ready for a missed approach, and I eagerly begin looking out the front window scanning for any clues of cloud break. Becoming slightly irritated that the thrust levers are still being used as an arm rest, and not guarded in preparation for a go-around.


Now this is where the little picture springs to mind of an email that came around showing the image of the captain from different peoples perspective, i have to laugh, as when i tell this story, I cant help but think of the image of how the captain sees himself.



100 Feet above the minima, we break out of the cloud, and immediately begin looking to see where the runway should be, directly below us we can see rice paddy fields all full of water, and is clear most of the way up until where the runway should be, all we can see there is a very thick blanket of fog and misty rain. We push on a little further down still trying to give ourselves a chance to spot any sign of lead in lights, but nothing, so eventually give the call to go-around.........


As the FO frantically scratches around for the TOGA button, i give the call to tower that we are going around, a response to which was a little unexpected.."Hong Kong Shuttle.. clear to land!!" "ah negative, we are going around - conducting missed approach" to which the final response "OH OK"


As the nose pitches up, and the Thrust starts to kick in, something goes BLING - TRU 1 Fail. Damn!



Just as the aircraft re-enters the cloud and just prior to reaching full thrust, the increase in engine speed sends the TRU 1 offline, resulting in the Autothrottle and autopilot disengaging, and worst of all, the captains screens all blinked off. The worst part of operating an all glass cockpit, is that all of your instruments are located on your LCD screens in front of you, and as the pilot not flying, the map screen was selected to terrain mode, with the FO's screen selected to radar. Workload in the cockpit suddenly increased ten fold, as Master Warnings and Master Cautions all started appearing over the EICAS along with flashing alarms buttons blaring for attention, as the effect the TRU 1 going off line temporarily shuts down certain systems, whilst the automatic bus transfers take place.


Whilst all this is occurring the missed approach altitude is rapidly approaching, and the thrust levers had inadvertently began to travel backwards, resulting in declining thrust and reducing airspeed.


With loss of terrain awareness and no screens, the cockpit began to fill with the loud sounds of orders barking across the cockpit.


TOGA TOGA TOGA, get those damn thrust levers into TOGA. Break right, lets get out of here!


With the thrust levers again being slammed into TOGA, the aircraft races towards the missed approach altitude with no sign of stopping, getting in a rapid radio call to the tower requesting a climb to 5000 feet to cover an imminent altitude bust being approved.


Getting settled into the climb back to the MSA, things begin to relax, the auto electrical transfers take place, connecting DC bus 1 to DC bus 2 as the EICAS messages clear, and the warnings all extinguish, leaving a few caution messages to be dealt with the QRH. Thankfully the captains screens returned. We are transferred to approach, and request radar vectors for another approach with holding to sort out a few technical issues. A response from approach "ah standby" sends alarm bells ringing.


"Hong Kong Shuttle Track as required"..... GREAT!!!!!


Whilst quickly reloading the FMS for another approach, and holding pattern, the FO does a great job of navigating raw data back to the IAF. We request to maintain current heading for 15 nms, then return on the reciprocal track for another VOR approach. "APPROVED"


A Quick check of our position against the MSA's on the chart shows we can now begin work on the System failures remaining on the EICAS. A call to the Flight Purser to advise the situation, and request they give a PA to the Pax, as we are quite busy in the flight deck at present. The response "i dont know what to say" soon indicates the need for the Captain to make a quick PA to the passengers.


All the QRH items carried out, resulting in the TRU 1 switch being selected to the OFF position, and clearing most of the other messages.


A check of the fuel on-board gives us the ability for one more approach, then its bug out time for the alternate.


"Hong Kong Shuttle ready for approach"


"Hong Kong Shuttle cleared for VOR DME 36"`



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Nice, a big improvement


The next approach begins, and working more closely as a team this time round, the First Officer shows how to conduct the perfect missed approach.


WELL DONE, its great to see the skills come out that the interviewers look for in the Simulator at recruitment time. Improvement 022_wink.gif.2137519eeebfc3acb3315da062b6b1c1.gif


A nice orderly missed approach conducted, and a quick call to approach advising of request to divert to the alternate gets things a little exciting.


Changmai Approach declare that they can turn on the ILS and have it ready in 15 minutes. The crew look at each other, look at the fuel gauge, and quickly make the decision.... how tempting is that, but NO!, the planned alternate is 305 nm miles away, and we cant risk the possibility of another missed approach resulting in no where to go. "Negative, request diversion to alternate airport"


"Hong Kong Shuttle cleared to Bangkok Via Flight plan Route"


We have 30 minutes to prepare ourselves for flying to an airport we have never been to before.


..... doesn't end yet.... to be continued



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Guest Glenn

This would have to be one of the best reads I've had in a long time. It has drama, it has suspense.


Keep up the good work. Ever considered writing a book?



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Wouldnt mind a coffee


No time to waste......


Approach charts for changmai go flying and end up all over the floor behind the seats, as new charts and approach plates are pulled from the jeppesen libraries. One Tuning and identifying the new en-route navaids, as the other starts to work out which STAR and Approach we can expect for Bang Kok, the two guys up the front are really firing up to work as one. The Sim training captain would be proud!


A few moments to spare, right time to inform the passengers that they have all scored a free trip to Bang Kok. And then perhaps call the flight attendant for another coffee. "Sorry Captain, there seems to be something wrong with the kettle in the forward galley" - Damn! Probably due to the TRU 1 going off line. "Um, how about the kettle in the rear Galley" - "One moment, will call them....yes its hot down the back" "Great news, and can you bring a chinese tea for my mate too please!" click...


Time to send a quick message to company via ACARS, advising of the divert to Bang kok. A quick chuckle as we recieve the reply "Why?" Could just see them now, the lads in the flight operations department standing there looking like stunned mullets, in disbelief that the day has come, that one of their aircraft is actually having to use the flight planned alternate!! Then would be the hive of activity, as they contact whoever it is they need to inform, of our impending arrival into Bang Kok.


Another quick status check on the fuel, and the First Officer briefs the arrival and approach into Bang Kok. Not too Bad, looks relatively straight forward...... Bing Bong, the security bell rings, as the Flight Attendant calls to unlock the door, a quick check of the security cameras, and with the all clear, unlock the door.....


Moments later, all is calm and serene as we sip on our hot beverages and quietly reflect on the flight so far. It is at this time that I notice a strange feeling.


A movement out the corner of my eye, as a dark shadow moves behind the seats...... The Dark Stranger has come aboard........how long has he been here for......has he come to collect!!!!



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National GeoGraphic - Air Crash Investigations



The golden rectangle springs into mind, as the events of today start to replay through the mind.


Can see it all now as the National Geo TV program show the typical chain of events leading to final conclusion. Capt has heated discussions with management, late to aircraft, technical problem with electrical equipment that fails later in flight (at the most in appropriate time i might add, how inconsiderate!) the notamed unserviceability of the ILS Precision Approach at the destination, the language barriers between the flight crew and control frequencies, the companies minimum fuel policy... and in the words of Jack Johnson... on and on and on it goes.....


With a new sense of awareness and heightened alert, comes a clear resolution.... GOT TO BREAK THE CHAIN....... The ole CRM slogan that is constantly hammered into crew each year on ground training days.





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Must be dorothy on her way to kansas


As Bang Kok airport starts to creep into view on the on-board mapping system, the radar starts to paint the most ugliest picture.


The greatest storm front one has seen for a long time, extending the radar further out and back, to get an appreciation of its size, indicates that this super cell thunderstorm is about 50 nms wide....


Both pilots in unison bleat, geez, hope that sucker is moving away from the field. Another quick check and calculation of the gauges shows that we have approximately 20 minutes of extra fuel, then we become a thirty million dollar glider looking for a thirty dollar paddy field.



Just an example of how the radar looks on the E170



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Where the Heck is Utapou


Commencing Descent we are handed over to Bang Kok Approach.


Bang Kok approach frequency is clogged with aircraft being diverted left right and centre. But finally a small break in the congestion to get the call out.


"Bang Kok Approach G'day, Hong Kong Shuttle, on descent to Flight Level 260, in receipt of Victor (well its sure looking unattractive :roll: )


"Hong Kong Shuttle Sa-wat dee Khráp, cleared to enter the holding pattern, expect to hold for 30 minutes."


Without even breaking for thought I hear myself reply "Negative, unable to hold for 30 minutes due min fuel"


But surely wasn't expecting "Ok Hong Kong Shuttle, if unable to hold for 30 minutes, you cannot land in bang kok - what is your intention."


Both crew look at each other, and for the first time are unable to compose good grammar - shit "If unable to be cleared for Bang Kok, do you suggest an alternative airport we can fly to"


A few minutes pass, then reply "Hong Kong Shuttle, you can fly to Utapou"


"Say again" - "New destination Utapou - what is your intention"


"Standby!!!" 10 minutes of thought races through ones mind, in what must actually be only 2 secs in real time. The crew stare at each other momentarily whilst a plan formulates.


CRM kicks in - "Right mate, you jump into the charts, and find where the heck Utapou is, and if we have any approach plates, and I'll grab the performance charts, and see just how long we can hold for." - "Roger" - "Let me know when you find something! In the mean time, slow this sucker back to 230 Kias min drag speed, and set descent rate to 1000 feet per minute"


Just like in the cartoons, manuals and paper starts flying around the cockpit. Buttons on calculator getting a workout overtime, as it searches urgently for a way to produce more fuel.



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To save space, through out the charts you'll only ever need when its really needed!


Like monks, after what seems like an eternity of page flicking, (to find what normally takes mere seconds), a coalescence of conscious thought returns to the cockpit as we both mumble into the interpilot intercom the discoveries, the past few minutes have yielded.


"So mate, what did you discover?", the facial expression says it all as the words leave his mouth.


It is at this moment that it hits you, connecting the dots, the greatest gift to expat pilots venturing overseas, of "Jeppesen Amendments miraculously being updated by pixies and elves", is not quite the glorified fable it is meant to be.


Like being told the truth about Santa, it dawns, that in reality, the real reason that you now see the poor little office girl, spending so much time in the office lunch room chatting, is because she has ingeniously devised a deal with the devil to reduce her eternal life sentence shifting mountains of amendments each month to the lesser category of Hills, by removing the completely waste of space charts covering the lessor known airports from the route manual. This not only saves her from having to amend the said little airports, but also saves the crew complaining about how full the jepps manuals are!


"Sorry Cap, I'm looking right where it should be, but the plates for Utapao are just not there"


A quick check of the second copy of jepps, provides the same revelation.


GOLDEN RECTANGLE - flashes briefly in the mind


"Oh well, plan B, from the performance charts, if we reduce our rate of descent to 500 feet a minute, and enter the hold continuing the descent, we can stretch the fuel to allow us to hold for 26 minutes, + fuel to get to airport from the holding fix, + the 700kgs fixed reserve."


OK, lets give that a shot, if things look critical we simply declare an emergency and then drive straight in to the airport! - (internal voice - "BREAK THE CHAIN")


"Bang Kok Approach, Shuttle can accept the hold for Bang Kok"


"Shuttle cleared to enter the hold, and will advise when cleared for the approach"



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Come on Come on..... TO - WAS THAT A GOLF BALL



The next 20 minutes drag, eyes are glued to the screen following the path of little blue diamonds zipping around the MFD (TCAS on Multi Function Display), like a computer game, entranced as you watch them duck and weave in and around big blotchy patches of surreal red, watching and listening, to see if they stop, or continue past the marker on the map indicating the spot named Bang Kok International Airport. Attention broken only by the incessant sounds of a calculator, tapping away, constantly crosschecking the fuel calculations against the fms.


You can just feel the ominous presence, as the dark stranger leans further into the cockpit, becoming bigger and bigger as every precious minute passes, overlooking both of you like a sim instructor watching the obvious go bye unnoticed.


"Hong Kong Shuttle, Cleared for ILS approach 21 left"


The cockpit becomes re-animated, as fears of impending paperwork dissolve. The dark stranger leans back, and gives a bit of breathing space, as though you bust through his latest ploy. You beauty, lets bring this bird to rest.


As the FO begins to plan his run through the gauntlet, the captain quickly briefs the passengers and cabin crew, on the present weather in Bang Kok, and other such niceties., and to prepare the cabin for landing.


The cockpit darkens as the massive thunderhead looms overhead, consuming any part of the sky that's blue and bright.


A couple of tough choices ahead, trying to decide the best path through, with not alot of room left, the controllers have already vectored us for an abbreviated ILS to avoid the main brunt of the Storm, localisers wiggling, itching to race across the screen like a kid playing in traffic.


An anxious look from the FO, asking for a little support, "Mate, drive through that lil sucker (term for finger coming out from the storm), its gonna be a heck of a lot softer than terra firma, just keep it at turbulence penetration and push straight through. I'm not eating rice tonight."


We each reach for the grab handles, and wait....


boink, barely enough to spook your grandmother, and voila, there we are, in bright blue skies, heading for a double capture on the ILS.


Gear Down, Flaps 5, "Hong Kong Shuttle, you are cleared to Land 21 left"


"HANDING OVER" says the FO, emitting a long sigh of relief. "Hey what do you mean handing over, its all smooth sailing from here"


"I know but I'm not gonna be responsible for stuffing up this landing and forcing a missed approach"


What a perfect first officer, well on his way to a quick command, leaving all the glory for the captain to fly the remainder down the ILS in perfectly still air, putting the aircraft down on a lovely soft wet runway!


Like after any real good work out, terra firma honors your arrival by reaching up, gently putting her hands around the wheels and lowering them to the ground with grace, squeak squeak!


Wow, didn't realize ones lungs could hold so much capacity, as the sigh of air from both sides of the cockpit continues in one long breath all the way through the roll out.


For those of you that have visited Bang Kok Airport (Our first time), what a bizarre sight it is to see, whilst holding at the active runway holding point waiting to cross, and seeing golf balls tee across your windscreen, as golfers play through the course on the land between the parallel runways.


Was enough for any serious crew to burst apart into laughter!



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Guest Chainsaw

Dear George,


You have to keep telling your wonderful stories, or else!


Brilliant stuff.


Please note that there may only be a few responding, but there are probably hundreds reading it.





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We taxi, we stop, we taxi some more, we stop again.......


"Hong Kong Shuttle, clear to cross the active runway 21R, right onto charlie, cross romeo, and hold short of Oscar, but remain clear of papa, behind the Thai 747, follow that aircraft until India." comes the very clear and precise instructions from the ground controller, didn't think he would ever come up for air after that one....


"Ah k, first right then follow the Thai 747 on the left, hold short India. roger.Hong Kong Shuttle"


Thank goodness the tiller is on the captains side, as sweat begins to drip from the brow of the FO, as he tries to make sense of what he sees outside, and tries to align that with his jepp plate on the inside....



"Shuttle, the 737 on your left will enter charlie ahead of you, behind the 737, turn left into India, then right, and hold abeam Hotel, till we work out what to do with you." mmm sounds interesting......


After 5 minutes holding at this position "Ok shuttle, we have an aircraft ready to push-back where you are, taxi right into Hotel, left on charlie, left on alpha, then follow the yellow line till abeam Bravo XX." - "Right on Hotel, Left on Charlie, Left on Alpha, will call when on the yellow brick road, HK Shuttle"


With the yellow line in sight, the FO relaxes back into his chair, as we follow the twists and turns till abeam the Thai Catering Office, and await a final 10 minutes whilst a Bangkokair 717 pushes back in front of us. Oops the passengers..ding dong..."Ladies and Gentleman welcome to Bangkok, we do apologise for the short delay, we shall be parking at our gate shortly!"


Hey, someone is waving at us from that bay over there with sticks! - Well can u please tell ground that we have the marshal!


"Shuttle, clear taxi to your bay"


Parking Brake set, Apu online, engines one and two selected off, rotating beacon off, seatbelt signs off. Shutdown checklist please!


"ground to cockpit, chocks in position" "Thankyou, on chocks this time, and parking brake released"


A quick glance at the fuel gauges - 1100 kgs remaining.....



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