Every time I (sucessfully) finish an exam, I tell myself it’s time to write another blog post. Usually, that’s because the 10 days or so leading up to my exam date, I literally shut myself off from outside life and I only go to work and study. I gain like 10 lbs every month just from studying, since I have no time for the gym and I also eat a lot when I’m stressed, but once the exam is over, I try to put my life back on normal terms – go to the gym straight away, watch all the TV I’ve missed over the past 2 weeks, and of course, blog.
I’m back at the airport, and I’ve been working shifts at line maintenance for about a month now. My time with Maintenance Control is unfortunately already passed, and I’m once again serving at the front line. However, when I was here previously, I was on a team called the ‘Cabin Team’, and they only work on defects inside the cabin. Now, I’m on the ‘Main Team’, and their workload is significantly heavier. First of all, they have to pick up all incoming flights and standby/push all outgoing flights. It’s funny, because I consider myself a frequent flyer, and I never even realized that there’s two people on the ground during every departure. Maybe you know, maybe you don’t but planes are not capable of moving backwards on their own power. They need what is called a tow truck to push them out of their parking bay area – what we call ‘pushback’. My job is to talk on the headset and communicate with the captain/tow truck driver as the pushback is being carried out, because the captain can’t see us (since we’re directly under the cockpit), and the tow truck driver also needs to know when to push, which direction to go, when to stop, etc. This is a pretty universal job in the aviation industry all across the planet. It’s not just our company, or Hong Kong, that needs these people. There’s tons of videos on this if you just do a quick YouTube search, but here’s one for your convenience. You can clearly see two people walking with the plane, and I would be one of them.
That’s the task that takes up the majority of my time at work, but when we have a bit of spare time (and the plane has a bit of ground time), we also have to work on scheduled maintenance tasks (work orders), as I had discussed in my previous post about my line maintenance life. A few weeks ago, I got to witness an engine change, which I never realized was such heavy work. Lots of engine components are required, but not included with the engine, and we have to do a lot with screwing and unscrewing parts to move them from the old engine to the new engine. The actual process of hoisting the engine was also extremely difficult. There is no power machinery available, at least not within our company – the engine is literally hoisted using manpower. Four extremely tough chains and pulley assemblies are fitted to the four corners of the engine, and as you pull down on the chain, the engine moves up.
In this video, you see an electrical hoisting process. The main components of the hoist is somewhat similar, but like I said, we use manpower instead of a button. Unfortunately, we don’t have our own aircraft hangar, and this kind of setup is only possible if you’re working indoors!
All in all, I’m learning a lot about airplanes and this whole industry. For example, I used to think that all the lights at the airport makes it ridiculously complicated, to a point where you can’t even gather any useful information. But now that I know what each of the lights mean, it makes a lot more sense. For my work purposes, the most important thing to know is the beacon light – a flashing orange light on the top and bottom of the aircraft. (There are also beacon lights on all moving vehicles at the airport). When the aircraft is in operation and planning on moving, it must be on (it can stay off if it’s just parked and people are working on it). That’s also what I usually keep an eye out for, because it stays off during the hour of transit and ground operations. When all doors have been closed, the bridge has been retracted, and the plane is basically ready to go, I watch the beacon light as my cue. Just because everything is ready doesn’t mean we get to takeoff right away. ATC holds are unfortunately way too common at the airport, and so the light stays off until the ATC tower tells the pilot that they are cleared to taxi. That’s when the pilot switches on the beacon light, and we all stay alert for the pilot’s call.
Taxi lights are basically the headlights of an airplane. They are a bright, white light shining out from the landing gear, and we also watch out for the taxi lights. After the push is complete and the tow truck is disconnected from the aircraft, the pilot usually run a couple of checklists and so the aircraft stays put for maybe a minute or two. If anything happens, the aircraft may have to return to bay, and we have follow up on it. That’s why we look out for the taxi lights. If the pilot switches on the taxi lights, he’s probably ready to move, and the plane is good to go.
There are right and left navigation lights, which is red on the left side and green on the right side. This is so that other people can clearly see how the plane is oriented when its completely dark.
One of the not as critical lights on an aircraft is the logo light, which shines light on the vertical stabilizer of the plane, because that usually has the logo of the operator on it. When it is inoperative, you can’t see the plane’s logo in the evening. That is all.
I also never knew that so many different parties of people access our planes. When the plane touches down, as soon as the passengers are all off, the cleaning and catering companies come up right away. Garbage is cleaned, the plane is vacuumed, and basically everything is restored to look nice. The catering from the previous flights is replaced very quickly, because their entire trolley is prepacked and switched during the transit. Lavatory waste is drained, and potable water is refilled, again by another separate company. At about 45 minutes before departure, the flight and cabin crew reach the aircraft, and the flight crew will have a refuelling order that tells us how much fuel to add. The cabin crew will check all the cabin equipment, and they will also ask us for help if they notice anything out of the ordinary.
Of course, all these people come and leave before the passengers are even allowed to board the plane, so it’s not that surprising that I’ve never seen them around before. However, I would call myself an observant person, and especially when it comes to a topic related to airplanes, I can’t help but think “how did I never notice this over all this time?”
The most fascinating thing that I’ve learned is how to press buttons in the cockpit. I can now safely say that I know what 80% of the buttons do, and I can even confidently perform certain functions by pressing the buttons. Once you’re familiar with it, it really isn’t as overwhelming as it seems.
One of the hard things about this job is having to be outside most of the time, rain or shine. But as a soccer girl, I’m used to that, right? Fighting for your team in the pouring rain makes you feel pretty fierce, even if it’s only your naive self thinking that way.
This job is tough. Hours are long, conditions are hard, and you are never given as much appreciation as you really deserve. I understand why the people around me are so disappointed in both the company and this industry. However, the one upside is I’m doing what I love. I’m not someone that will let others take advantage of this fact. I don’t work for free. But I know what I’m doing. I’m filling myself with worth that others can’t take away from me. I’m fully confident that one day, I’ll make it.
Until then, I’ll be satisfied with watching the sun rise every day.