Plane Answers: Cockpit jumpseat etiquette and inefficient arrivals

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

David asks:

Hi Kent,

While riding in the jump seat do you ever double check what the PIC and SIC are doing? Have you ever seen something that you would have done differently and pointed it out? I know the cockpit is supposed to be sterile below 10,000 ft but have you ever said something or pointed out a checklist item that might have been overlooked?

When we have jumpseaters we almost always mention to them that if they see anything out of the ordinary, speak up. You’d be surprised at the things you can see sitting further away from the instrument panel. An extra set of eyes are always welcome.

Most of these items aren’t safety related, so I’ll usually stay quiet unless something could pose a problem later. But I wouldn’t hesitate to say something even below 10,000 feet (the sterile period) and I’d hope another jumpseater would feel the same way when sitting behind me.

Anthony asks:

Hi Kent,

I enjoy your blog and try to visit regularly. I have a question about standard arrival procedures (STARs?). They seem to add quite a bit of time to the flight as you go all over the place before finally lining up and landing. I have been told that in the early days of jets, pilots would simply throttle back the engines and descend at a fairly high rate with the engines at idle giving a faster trip.

Given that you often hear of a departure being delayed because of flow control (it even happens on trans-continental flights here in Australia), why can’t the flow control be more precisely devised for quicker arrivals like the old days?

Is this what is being planned with the trials by Air New Zealand, Qantas and United flying from the South Pacific into California?
Hi Anthony,

We often wonder about the reasons for the extended vectors around populated areas at major airports.

They tell us that in order to sequence a number of flights into an airport with multiple runways, it’s becoming necessary to have ‘corner posts’ or other waypoints around the airport that allow for the proper alignment and spacing at an airport.

We still fly to many airports with very little traffic. When flying into Shannon, Ireland or some of the Caribbean airports, we’re often able to descend at the most efficient angle (which, like you described, is done with an idle descent at the latest possible point) resulting in significant fuel savings.

Flying into the New York airports or any other high density terminal areas usually requires an airplane to descend earlier while being ‘vectored’ by ATC to get around departing aircraft from other airports. Prior to that, aircraft are sequenced well in advance to avoid a saturation of arrivals at the same moment.

I’d love to understand more about it, but as pilots, we don’t always have the big picture as it relates to multiple airports with multiple departures and arrivals.

In the U.S. there’s a lot of talk about an ATC program called “NextGen” which promises to allow for more efficient flight plans. Let’s hope so.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Monday’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.