This day was a bit exhausting, as I had to perform four flights. Usually we prefer two long flights over four short flights as the majority of the workload on a flight is during takeoff, landing and on the ground. Cruise flight is relatively relaxed. However my flight took my to Dublin, where I was living and working for two years in the past, when I was still a First Officer. I was excited to see the airport again. The routing took us very far north, flying over Scotland before turning southbound just before reaching northern Ireland near Belfast. I think I’ve never flown that far north over Scotland, but unfortunately it was cloudy and there was not too much to see. I told the First Officer, who was experienced but had never flown to Dublin before that there could be a lot of traffic at around 11 o’clock as many flights from Europe are arriving at that time and that we could be lucky to avoid the worst of it with our arrival time at 10 o’clock. In fact we got a very direct routing. During the approach we got a beautiful view of Howth peninsular which I pointed out to my first officer as well. When I was based in Dublin I have been in Howth many times and I personally consider it as one of the most beautiful places in the area. The village near the sea is very nice and gives the impression of a traditional village and there is a gorgeous view from the top of the island, especially at sunset and nice weather conditions. If you plan to visit Dublin, make sure to visit Howth, it’s really worth it!
As we were approaching the airfield we switched our radio to the Tower Controller, who is the Air Traffic Controller controlling the area in the close vicinity of the airport, I immediately recognized the voice. Although I have never met this controller before I have heard his (very charactaristic) voice many time over the radio when I was based in Dublin. I was actually tempted to ask him over the radio ‘Do you still recognize my voice? I was based here for two years’, but then I considered this to be unprofessional. Air Traffic Control frequencies are serious business and we are not supposed to discuss personal matters on the frequency – after all mistakes or misunderstood instructions can be dangerous. Everything was going well so far and everything was on time. That is until we asked for our en route clearance from Air Traffic Control. They told us that was had a Slot (called ‘CTOT’, Calculated Takeoff Time in pilot language) in one hour.
I promised in one of my previous posts already that I will give a more detailed explanation about slots. Every Air Traffic Control Sector has a limited capacity and the ‘CFMU’ (Central Flow Management unit) of Eurocontrol evaluates all flight plans that are filled and if it detects that one sector will be overloaded it will assign slots until the maximum of that sector is not exceeded anymore. This usually means delaying flights, by giving them a time window in which they can depart. Sector capacity can be reduced due to several reasons, for example technical problems in the control center, weather or Air Traffic Controller strike. If an airplane is ready before the given slot time it is possible to send a so called ‘ready message’. If an unexpected gap opens it may be possible that the slot comes forward to an earlier time or is canceled altogether, allowing for an earlier departure than originally expected. We are usually not told the exact cause for the slot, but in this case I suspected that the morning rush hour at around 11 o’clock was the cause here. I know that delays are never good news to passengers and therefore I suggested to the First Officer and the purser that we could use the waiting time to show the kids the cockpit. While on the ground with the doors open it is still possible to show people the cockpit and usually the people ready enjoy it. By the time we had finished all our preparations the slot moved forward by around 15 minutes. We agreed that the waiting time was not long enough to make this offer – if we were released to go earlier some kids would not be able to see the cockpit and would be disappointed.
Unfortunately the slot time did not move so we left with a big delay. On the way back we had some food and started already to prepare as much as possible for the next flight to Copenhagen, so we could minimize the ground time and maybe catch up a bit of the delay. We only had a very light passenger load for the short flight to Copenhagen so we checked if there was a possibility to ‘tanker’ fuel to save time. ‘Tankering’ fuel means uplifting enough fuel at one airport to fly to the destination and back without refueling at the airport. On longer flights or with a bigger passenger load this is usually not possible as the airplane manufacturer publishes a ‘maximum landing weight’ which could be exceeded in these cases. Today this was not the case and we decided to fill the airplane with 10 tons of fuel which would be enough to fly to Copenhagen and still have enough fuel to fly back to Oslo with all the legally required fuel reserves on board. We managed to get going pretty fast and were on our way to Oslo soon. Shortly after takeoff the purser came to the cockpit and informed me that a couple of passengers had a connecting flight and that it would be very tight for them due to our delay. We asked the ground handling agency over the radio where the other airplanes was parked any figured out that the passengers had a chance to make the connection, as it was not parked far away from our planed parking position.
After landing in Copenhagen we saved at least 10 minutes of time by not refueling. The First Officer was flying back to Oslo and we got some shortcuts from Air Traffic Control. We had a good teamwork and were happy to be back after a long day.