“training in progress”

The excuse when something goes (hopefully not horribly) wrong while the new trainee is sitting in position, trying to vector airplanes around the skies of Munich or bargain with adjacent sectors about the best way to transfer airplanes.

It has been used only once during an actual radio transmission by my coach so far (when telling a pilot to disregard his descent instruction as another plane was relatively close and was – not known to me – released to another controller), though a few other situations would probably have provided enough justification.

That said, apologies to the Condor pilots who were put on a vector for a straight-in approach (i.e., without the usual weaving and turning to get into the normal traffic pattern), but were then not descended accordingly, as there was another airplane in the way.
It probably caused some puzzled reactions in the cockpit to have to level off, and then being told that “you are a little too high for straight-in, turn left heading 340”. You might have been wondering what my plan was, or if I even had one, and you would have been fully justified.

It was “one of those days” anyways, days I also had back in the Sim (thankfully not that often), but which appear much scarier in real life (hopefully not that often).
Turning a police helicopter while he was still in someone else’s control zone, scratching another sector with an inbound turned too early (“München Approach South apologizes”), handing an airplane over too the next controller while it was way too high, and too fast (of course) – the safety net built into the system works well enough to prevent chaos and mayhem, but it’s things which add up and make such a day one to be put into the category “learned a lot, achieved little”.

It’s indeed “training in progress” (and, in case of anyone wondering, still fun!)


Fast Forward To…Now

It’s been a long time since the last update, and quite a lot has happened since then.
For one, I just had my fourth day at Munich Approach, which of course is some change from the Academy simulator I – and you readers – were used to.

This is the result of some further months of training, one partly successful practical examination (you could also say partly failed, but now how would that sound), a fully successful second try five weeks later, some looking for a flat inbetween, buying a new car, convincing the powers-that-be that I really really should be doing Munich Approach (because I…err…would really like to…and stuff. Convincing arguments like that ;) and so on.

To make it short, on March 23rd at 9am six other hopeful trainees and I arrived at my new working place, Munich Centre, situated to the west of the Munich Airport terminals, between the two runways.
What followed was the to-be-expected theoretical introductions to our new airspace, some simulation to get used to it all, quick change of plans (“and btw Robert, you are not doing the Freising sector you learned for for the last three days, you are doing the München sector”), getting to know a lot of new people (“Damn, what was that guy’s name again…”) and general settling in to the new surroundings.

After a week of this, I had my first introduction to “the board” (a.k.a. actually sitting at the working position), at first as Planner which is pretty useful if you have an airspace test a few hours later, as it gives you the chance to see all those adjacent sectors, airspaces (temporary reserved or not), waypoints, navaids, frequencies, coordination procedures…the lot…in action.
It could be considered to be pretty natural that the new trainee is confused when receiving his first real coordination call ever and, instead of the proper phraseology (keyword, coordination point, call-sign, the rest) used at the Academy, only gets some seemingly random call-sign. That call-sign can be an arriving airplane, departing, crossing, flying somewhere near so we have to consider it, descending through our airspace or doing something completely different. Finding out is the challenge here for the new trainee, and admittedly taxes the patience of the other Planner quite a bit.
Thankfully, after some getting used to, that problem slowly disappears. Sometimes I even know what the matter could be as soon as I see which sector is calling us, but that remains the exception for now, of course. ;)

The first half hour as radar controller is pretty much uneventful due to a lack of actual traffic. Of course, the very first airplane I talk to in my OJT career is an Italian who doesn’t seem to get half of what I tell her. Figures…

The next few days continue along those lines, with the coaches being less and less merciful, resulting in radar controller hours with more and more traffic.
And yes, it is absolutely great fun.

Two days ago saw my first day with fog, resulting in reduced traffic (them airplanes can’t land as well when they don’t see anything), some holding and some more fun. Well, fun for us, not for the regional jet from the Balkans that has to stay in the hold for 2,5 hours. It’s amazing how much fuel he brought with him, although probably less if you see that only airplanes who need a visibility of 250m for landing were permitted to actually depart with destination Munich, and this guy came in needing 300m – when we actually had somewhere around 150m. It’s called pre-planning, I guess.

My personal highlight comes later when I accidentally want to clear a Lufthansa to some point when the coordination actually hadn’t been done yet.
“Lufthansa 123, proceed direct….disregard”
“I guess we should ask the other sector first…”
“No problem, we didn’t find Disregard in our database anyways”

I guess I should be thankful, one of these days there will actually be a point “Disregard” where airplanes can fly to, and I will really be screwed.

And the joys of this job? Clearing an Airbus 330 from Emirates Airlines almost all the way to his landing course, then going off shift, driving towards the airport and seeing that same A330 taxiing to its gate, having landed safely. Gives you some good feeling. :)