A Higher Level of Understanding
Improves Operational Performance
High Energy Approaches
The A330 has a very sleek wing and it's difficult to descend and slow down at the same time. Therefore, some carriers create techniques for high energy arrivals that keep the plane at altitude while it slows and then descend. The problem with this method is this technique is created in a cookbook fashion, and to work they require a sequence of steps to begin at a specific point in time, height, distance, weight, and environmental conditions. This works in a simulator but is unrealistic in real life. ATC often keeps us up high on arrival and the moment we might need this procedure ATC requires us to descend. Which makes this "stay at altitude to slow before we descend" not practical.
Another other option is to go down and then slow down. Very effective, but you also need the experience to know how quickly this plane slows, and that too is dependent upon wind and weight, as well as ATC's ensuing speed requirements.
Regardless, both options depend upon high situational awareness. In my opinion, the cookbook stay at altitude and slow approach is unrealistic because chances of being in the exact condition that was trained in the simulator, and ATC allowing you to stay at altitude longer than they want is highly unlikely. The descend and then slow is a great option, but not in every situation. Below is a real life it's going to happen scenario. Will you know how to manage the mass to accomplish the goal safely?
Manage the Mass
The airplane can descend and slow down if you understand the technology. The following is a technique based on systems knowledge and how to manage the mass when ATC is bringing you in on an arrival, and then decides to turn you on a short base for a visual and you become unexpectedly high. This is a far more likely situation in real life, and the need to understand how to get the plane down and slow down quickly is essential.
- Dial in the FAF altitude on the FCU, and pull for Open Descent. The thrust goes to idle, and the plane starts down.
- Select speed and dial in 170 knots. This is a speed that we can configure to flaps 3.
- While selecting the speed, call "gear down" and pull for full speedbrakes. Both of which create drag.
- Select flaps on schedule as you slow: 240 flaps 1, 196 flaps 2, 170 flaps 3.
- When stable and on profile, press for managed speed and call "flaps full landing check."
Understanding the Automation
The speed tape displays an amber hook (blue arrow below) which identifies VLS. VLS is the lowest selectable speed for the autopilot and autothrust. Autothrust won't allow you fly below the hook, even if you select a speed lower than VLS. Therefore, during a high energy descent if you get into the hook your thrust will increase. When high, this added power prohibits your goal. Situational awareness as to what your plane is doing is essential at all times.
Speedbrakes increase drag and will help you to descend and slow, but you must have the knowledge that thrust will increase if you get into the hook. If you're aware of this, then you'll know that you may need to come out of speedbrakes temporarily, if the hook raises due to your current configuration, as it continually adjusts. Understanding the technology will help you manage the mass for those non-standard situations.
To learn more, I found a great Airbus Article on speed management:
I am finished with the simulator portion of training and now the goal is to retain what I learned, for when I get to fly the plane. It looks like I will be flying within the next 30 days! I can hardly wait.
If you ever find yourself in the predicament of not flying and need retention, take the time to visualize a flight each day. It works! This will keep operations fresh in your mind. Thinking about your flight is excellent practice, and your brain does not know the difference.
Enjoy the Journey!