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View Full Version : The Airbus Enigma Machine.....


First.officer
8th Aug 2023, 13:07
Hi folks,

A quick question if I may, regarding the Airbus FCOM's. Once again as sim season rolls around and (trying) to be the ever-diligent pilot/FO that I think I am - I start to go through the syllabus reading with a genuine intent to enjoy and learn. But this is where very quickly every time it goes wrong for me, because invariably as I start to read the various Airbus FCOM Chapters, I tend to find that they resemble in the main - absolute (*expletive deleted) gibberish. For example, FCOM-DSC-70-65-GENERAL and regarding the Air Bleed System.....I look at that schematic and start to think that I've maybe opened a publication more aimed at an associate engineering professor? I mean it's a very poor illustration to start with (as all Airbus illustrations generally are IMHO), but has very little context that is of use to me as a pilot. Am I missing something obvious here (as a mere pilot) wanting to have some concise, straightforward and understandable/relatable reading that applies to the job role we all undertake in one seat or another?.

This sadly isn't the first time over the years on the 'bus that I have become ever more frustrated at what I see in the Airbus OLB suite of publications, and wondering if the issue is;

A. I'm pig shit thick and ignorant.
B. I'm trying to understand minutiae that whilst nice to know, aren't that important.
C. I don't have an engineering degree, Airbus Enigma Machine (likely doesn't exist but I live in hope) and should know my limits.
D. All of the above.

Okay, rant over - does anyone have any other options for reading sensible, pilot-oriented and type-accurate reading/study material in relation to the A320 Series? because in all honesty, I'm pretty much done with the Airbus FCOM.

321XLR
8th Aug 2023, 13:57
go to VPrep or 1StepPrep website they have great material. It is not free.

First.officer
8th Aug 2023, 14:13
Thanks 321 XLR - I've subscribed in the past to V-Prep, and it's great - but I'm more looking at a publication, book - something that's essentially the FCOM, accurate and without being fairly useless unlike the Airbus one.

sonicbum
8th Aug 2023, 15:05
Am I missing something obvious here (as a mere pilot) wanting to have some concise, straightforward and understandable/relatable reading that applies to the job role we all undertake in one seat or another?.


Donít get me wrong, but it seems like youíre looking for tutorials rather than sources of information.

The FCOM has nothing that could resemble to engineering level details and the information therein contained is pretty much straightforward, this is why you can find tons of other official publications to get into more details. (Flight Operation Briefing Notes, Safety First Publications, FAST Magazine, etc..)

Anyway you donít really need to get too much into the tiny bits of system details - you need an operational knowledge of the system you are studying in such a way that you are able to interpret normal and abnormal parameters. Throughout the years, you will go over and over the same chapters again and things will make more sense. Try to make the most out of it.

Advice: do not study from other peopleís interpretation of the information related to the aircraft, such as all the books and apps you can find online until you have a reasonably good understanding and experience of your own. Otherwise you wonít be able to distinguish rubbish information from valuable stuff.

First.officer
8th Aug 2023, 17:44
Hi sonicbum,

Thanks for the reply, and no - I'm not looking for tutorials, but something that is well written an illustrated properly, instead of the poorly worded and badly illustrated (duck egg bluey grey & white cr@p) FCOM, and that then allows me to actually be able to read (and enjoy) doing so whilst expanding my own breadth and depth of knowledge. The FCOM generally is lacking here, it needs a complete overhaul IMHO as it's not user-friendly as a pilot (again, my own opinion here). With perseverance you can eventually understand what is being written and such like, but the opportunity to get things wrong because of mis-interpretation is rife, and certainly if you have conversations with Airbus pilots elsewhere, it's astonishing how many similar but different thoughts as to how a system or item works (or doesn't) crops up, leads me to conclude there is an issue here. In the past, sims and alike - it has been remarked that my technical knowledge is very good, but I have to say - mainly by going over and over relevant section of the FCOM repeatedly (more often than you should have to), in order to 'pick the sweetcorn out of the shite'.

The Safety First publications and FCTM etc. are much, much better in 'readability' - but of course they naturally do not go in to the depth necessarily that the FCOM of course needs to, but are far more suited to use in revising etc. - whilst I agree about interpreting normal and abnormal parameters, whilst you suggest you don't need to know the "tiny bits of system details" - having an automotive engineering background in my earlier days, it helps me considerably to understand the systems when I have a resource that I can refer to and interpret properly, and the FCOM - it's just never worked for me - sorely lacking in most areas and awful in how it's put together. A look at Boeing and Cessna's equivalent publications reveals far, far superior publications in use, so it can be done obviously.

I agree with the dangers of studying other people's books, apps etc. - but I'm finding myself after 8+ years of use, I'm slowly giving up on the FCOM for anything other than cursory searches for reason's I've stated - hence the desire to find something else. Either that or option 'A' in my earlier post applies ;-).

Thanks again for reply...much appreciated.

MENELAUS
8th Aug 2023, 18:44
After 26+ years of Being a Boeing man I converted latterly to the Airbus. And have to say I found the manuals a joy, especially on an iPad with hyperlinks etc. Yes they are a bit tech lite, and they do give the impression of being translated directly from French in to Franglais, however, I found them intuitive and quite easy to use. Parts of the MEL would appear to have been written by an engineering graduate from the Sorbonne (and they in all likelihood have) and show a definite bias towards French mathematics ( fuel system indication problems being a prime example) however on balance Iíd say the AIB ones have the edge.
Itís also part of an overall industry drift towards dumbing down what we are told in the tech manualsÖjust enough to get the job done. Airbus are not unique in this. When I did the ĎClassicí course aeons ago, the Vol 4 Tech was voluminous and the course 8 weeks long. Complete overkill.

321XLR
8th Aug 2023, 19:18
I will "second" what SonicBum said. From a pilot perspective, be wary of studying outside "engineering" material / tech ops stuff as your job is to fly it, respond to malfunctions per the ECAM, QRH, and SOPs, and not be a test pilot or diagnose stuff. That is how Airbus wants you do it. Yes, understand "why" a light or abnormal happened, but not much beyond that.

First.officer
8th Aug 2023, 19:43
they do give the impression of being translated directly from French in to Franglais

Now, I quite believe this is possibly where a lot of my issues with the FCOM at the least, lie....it's very badly done, and for an aircraft manufacturer with the resources it has and the worldwide client base - it should be able to adapt and disseminate a decent copy of a publication that is adapted and relevant to each country in which it's product is being utilised.

​​​​​​​From a pilot perspective, be wary of studying outside "engineering" material / tech ops stuff as your job is to fly it, respond to malfunctions per the ECAM, QRH, and SOPs, and not be a test pilot or diagnose stuff

Absolutely, I agree - I'm in now way trying to be, or qualified to do as such. I merely want to try and find a decent resource other than that supplied and that is accurate as the FCOM probably is if I could understand it in many areas. The problem for me is that my (albeit a very basic, arguably somewhat "agricultural" perhaps) engineering background wants to know the what's and why - everyone has their ways of understanding things and for me, the FCOM is woefully lacking or perhaps it's more likely in the first quote above - its the damned "Franglais" that needs addressing. Perhaps. Hence, my desire to find something better, although I suspect it doesn't exist - maybe if the time and resource allowed, a decent interpretation of the FCOM and some decent illustrations and diagrams etc. - ideal world stuff of course haha.

Fursty Ferret
8th Aug 2023, 23:25
Work your way through the Airbus Safety First magazine series. They're free and while they do include a lot of systems stuff, it's all practical information about how things work.

The pneumatics section of the Airbus FCOM is particularly impenetrable though on first reading. It's not helped because Airbus FCOMs are designed to be read by non-English speakers and as such are artificially limited in terms of the language and vocabulary used. I believe Airbus have a list of words they're allowed to use in the FCOM, so if the one word that explains something obviously isn't there, they have to pick another combination.

olster
9th Aug 2023, 11:44
First Officer, a very good question. I converted to the Airbus A340 back in the earlyish ‘90s. I came from ahem, traditional Boeing types. Essentially I and my colleagues leapt several decades from analogue Boeing technology into the starry and digital future Airbus world. In a way it was less traumatic than you might think in that the only similarities were provided by Isaac Newton in the guise of gravity and physics. In terms of the documentation we were disappointed to discover that they were fairly unreadable in that they were a gibberish form of franglais that could be incomprehensible, pilot or engineer. I had a brief reacqaintance with the Largest Airbus in a bizarre interlude as an instructor with EK. The FCOM had not improved in the intervening years. My views about how pilots interact with Airbus are the following: some pilots and instructors attempt to baffle with pseudo science, pontificating about Control Laws etc without really understanding. Airbus do not want you to have too deep an understanding as we were told essentially to just press the expletive deleted buttons and if something goes wrong just follow the ECAM. You could say a form of corporate arrogance generally not replicated in Boeing world. As others have said I would stick with the original suite of manuals and avoid the unsupervised Airbus for Dummies which are not always technically correct. Also any ambiguities ask the friendliest instructor in your airline for technical clarification. Finally, although you are very self deprecatory about your engineering background, you do write very well so I doubt whether the answer is A.

Uplinker
9th Aug 2023, 12:16
As olster says, I don't think you need to get too much into the nitty gritty of Airbus systems.

The Airbus FBW is a fantastic machine which has been designed and developed by very clever engineers and test pilots.

Follow ECAM and the STATUS pages and do so carefully, line by line. Don't try to second guess. Don't invent your own procedures.. The Airbus people have spent a lot of time working out procedures to be correct and appropriate, while taking into account things that you or I might not know about or appreciate.

There was an Airbus Industrie publication called "A320 Family Instructor Support", dated 2001, ref: UHG1041; which was very interesting and useful, but it does not go into systems such as bleed air. It concentrated on how to fly the FBW; and the reasons for various procedures and methods, and dealing with some major failures.

I was an engineer before becoming a pilot, and I found the Airbus manuals to be clear enough, but that might be because I can follow a system or a machine from an engineering point of view.

As olster also says, I never felt the need to read other non Airbus publications about systems - these can lead you up the garden path. All you need to know is in the Airbus FCOM and FCTM, and Airbus 'Safety First'. It might well take several concentrated read throughs, to understand a system.

First.officer
9th Aug 2023, 16:39
Thanks all for the replies thus far, very interesting.

I agree with many comments, and FWIW - to actually fly and be part of a crew - the Airbus I do love. But Airbus' publications (and this is where I will have to possibly disagree with some?) are absolutely awful in the main, and that I am afraid I will likely always have unless they correct the 'Franglais' at the least, come up with something that is adapted accordingly as per my previous comments.

I did have a thought or two (odd for my 'little cogs' I'll admit) - as I was reading through (or trying to!) the FCOM again earlier, something occurred to me - the FCOM is the "Flight Crew Operating Manual" - this therefore I would suggest is a resource that is supplied for use by an appropriately trained Flight Crew, agree? i.e. it's aimed at a pilot, not an engineer. And I think this is perhaps where I have to take issue with the Airbus (FCOM), as in far too many areas, it goes in to some depth and description - which is fine - but the information has to be relevant and applicable, and the FCOM simply isn't that at times, when referenced to by a pilot who (arguably) needs access to clear, concise and unambiguous information in relatively short time (not like eQRH, FCTM etc. but you get my meaning hopefully) - or else (IMHO) it becomes misleading and hence dangerous maybe at times - because it leads an individual to have doubts, confusion or mis-understanding about some systems and procedures etc., or certainly until having re-read many, many times (far too many in my case) to make sure you have the right 'twist' on an FCOM chapter.

some pilots and instructors attempt to baffle with pseudo science, pontificating about Control Laws etc without really understanding

I think the above quote (thanks for that olster) bolsters my earlier statement regarding interacting with other Airbus guys & gals - there is definitely doubt and I think this is instilled in no small part due to lack of FCOM understanding possibly, which means the FCOM is 'standing on it's head' here in intent, completely at odds to what I would suggest is what it needs to achieve. There will always be occasion that of course some content will be somewhat technical, complex and so forth and mis-understandings will happen, naturally. But the FCOM (IMHO) adds to that unnecessarily in far too many areas and ways, because it needs (nee - must have!) adaptation to it's geographical market area if nothing else (yes, sorry - another rant). And the fact that Airbus staff in various areas contribute to publications like 'Safety First' and alike, even the FCTM being much better than the FCOM - means that it is possible and achievable by Airbus Industrie. They already have proven that in aforementioned areas, so for me I would suggest - whomever you've tasked before and to-date with FCOM authoring - remove them, give it to the ones that have proven form for creating the 'good stuff'. The author's of the FCOM are I will undoubtedly say, geniuses and very clever - but I think they are coming at it from the wrong direction, and purely from an engineering point alone (and probably a high level design and engineering function at that) and not really getting the pilot role and function in needing information the way I suggest - anyone agree?.

I do agree with not trusting any non-approved resource and so I do have to persevere with the FCOM. But, for me - it's frankly bloody awful and has the issues for me personally I have highlighted - hence my desire to try and find something far better (albeit non-approved I agree) and that a little like making your own personal notes - I can read, consider and verify accuracy to a reasonably high degree through use of non-Franglais and decent illustration when relevant (like Boeing and Cessna manage to do).

Oh, I still think i'm quite likely an 'A' haha - but I appreciate the suggestion to some extent of being otherwise olster :)

Uplinker
9th Aug 2023, 19:01
Not doubting you at all, but to maybe help us help you; can you cut and paste a specific example of something in the FCOM that you find confusing?

First.officer
9th Aug 2023, 20:46
Hi Uplinker,

If you don't mind, I will refrain from posting an image as this may prove to be copyright material, and I've no wish to infringe that...suffice to say I'll use the diagram located; FCOM-DSC-70-65-GENERAL as an example (of poor illustration in my opinion). The text relating to this image is included on the next few pages (which without the image to hand makes it kind of useless for referral without constant swiping back and forth, but eh - it's an iPad). Text in one page example is thus;

"ENGINE STABILITY

Two air bleed systems (station 2.5 of the LPC and stages 7th and 10th) provide greater compressor stability in the different flight phases.

- The LPC 2.5 bleed valve moves under FADEC control as a function of the low rotor speed, altitude and Mach and is dedicated to improve stall margin during starting, low power or transient operation. The failsafe position of this valve is open.

- The 7th and 10th stage bleed valves are normally closed for most engine operation but fully open for engine starting. Their failsafe position is open. Theses* valves are controlled by FADEC through FMU.

In the two cases, the air is vented to the fan air stream."

the (*) denotes inclusion of typographical error.

Now, okay - without the diagram it may be a tough ask to visualise. Even with the diagram it's tough (for me) to visualise what we are talking about. I appreciate that likely most will say....."this is merely nice to know, it bears little relevance to dealing with failures, use ECAM philosophy etc., etc." - and I would agree - however - If this is the case - then why the hell include it in a pilot reference document? where and how can I use this information to effect a safe outcome in any instance of failure? I can understand an engineer using it in some scenarios - but a pilot? how? please if I am wrong, I would love to be enlightened here, as I cannot see it. And if Airbus include it in the Flight Crew Operating Manual, then it must have relevance in some form for an operating pilot of said aircraft, or else it's just pointless and extraneous information that is not needed, and may confuse - which seems a silly thing to do if that is the case. For me the only thing of relevance is likely;

"ENGINE STABILITY

Two air bleed systems provide greater compressor stability in the different flight phases."

Would that not make more sense to a pilot? because there isn't much else here of use to me as a pilot? Airbus have even used mention of a "Station"....I'm sorry, but I get the feeling something is fundamentally wrong in the FCOM that other manufacturers seem able to address, and it seems on face value to want to confuse and mystify? and that's not good in any scenario and desirable outcome. Does this resonate with anyone else, or am I alone and an 'A' ;)?

Jonty
9th Aug 2023, 21:38
You’re operating under the misconception that the FCOM is a pilot document. It’s not. It’s written by the manufacturer’s lawyers with the specific intent of keeping the manufacturer out of prison.

First.officer
9th Aug 2023, 22:25
Youíre operating under the misconception that the FCOM is a pilot document. Itís not. Itís written by the manufacturerís lawyers with the specific intent of keeping the manufacturer out of prison.

Well, I can understand that viewpoint and Iíd neither agree or disagree publicly, as thatís speculative and none of us could prove or disprove I think it fair to suggest, would you agree Jonty?. But the issue for me still (aside from the above quote) is that the inherent idea of the FCOM is as a pilot reference and information resource supplied by the aircraft manufacturer. I suggest that it (FCOM) fails in this remit quite often and for reasons Iíve mentioned.

Uplinker
10th Aug 2023, 06:21
Ironically, my trusty electronic copy of the Airbus FCOM has just started playing up, so I cannot access the reference or diagram you cite.

But the text passage you quote is quite understandable to me: the Bleed air system has high and low pressure sources from each engine, which are selected by valves controlled by the FADEC, according to bleed demand; and are also managed to promote engine stability. This, coupled with your ATPL studies of gas turbine engines, should complete a reasonable picture of how and why the system operates the way it does. And why the bleed page shows alternative bleed sources from each engine.

It is a bit wordy, possibly, and could be more "slick" in terms of English, (and there is one single, minor typo). But I really don't think it is too bad. It explains everything pretty clearly to me.You will have to accept a certain 'awkwardness', owing to the translations from French, which has a sentence structure with elements in a different order to that of English.

You don't need to know the details to operate the aircraft or deal with a bleed failure, but the information helps, and gives you the reason for the detail in the engine bleed schematic. It also explains why in some bleed valve or bleed valve control failures, (e.g. FADEC); thrust changes must be made gently and slowly.

"station" is a way of describing part of an engine that has a series of stages of incrementally increasing pressure for example.

Perhaps the 'engineer speak' style is unfamiliar to you, but I would embrace it and enjoy learning. Certainly don't stress about it. You are never going to be asked specifically which stages/stations the bleed valves are located, you just need to know that there are bleed valves at high pressure and low pressure stations/stages of the engine, which are managed by the FADEC to satisfy bleed demand and compressor stability. :ok:


Edit to add: It occurs to me that my original Airbus FBW A320 type rating course, (all those years ago), and the subsequent A330 course, were taught in a classroom over several weeks, and we each had our own big 2" thick paper FCOMs. These huge paper copies might well have made it easier to assimilate the information, and mark pages and annotate or highlight text etc, than only ever being able to see one page at a time on an iPad. That might well be the problem here. Perhaps you can find a paper FCOM?

AerocatS2A
10th Aug 2023, 07:53
Edit to add: It occurs to me that my original Airbus FBW A320 type rating course, (all those years ago), and the subsequent A330 course, were taught in a classroom over several weeks, and we each had our own big 2" thick paper FCOMs. These huge paper copies might well have made it easier to assimilate the information, and mark pages and annotate or highlight text etc, than only ever being able to see one page at a time on an iPad. That might well be the problem here. Perhaps you can find a paper FCOM?

The format certainly doesn't help. Sometimes it is good to be able to flick through something physical like a book. I have the FCOM in two formats, as a PDF that can be read on any PDF app such as GoodReader for the iPad, and as a FlySmart OLB document. The FlySmart document is rendered as white text on a black background which isn't the nicest to read, meanwhile the PDF has each DU displayed multiple times depending on how many tails it applies to which makes it awkward to read as well.

Gargleblaster
10th Aug 2023, 09:15
Apologies if joking isn't in place, but just occurred to me whether there might be Haynes manuals for Airbusses, like this one : https://www.amazon.co.uk/Boeing-747-Manual-Maintaining-Workshop/dp/1844259617

First.officer
10th Aug 2023, 09:58
Lots of help and suggestions there guys/gals, thanks......and as Uplinker suggests, coupled with ATPL knowledge and after going over it a few times - then the working process can de deciphered.

I think perhaps my real issue is with the 'wordy' nature, the conversion from French ('Franglais') to English - and whilst it works for some, maybe even the majority - I guess it just won' t ever work for me as it's too awkward in its conversion and wording. I readily admit in the 8+ years of Airbus flying, each time I open it - I loathe it (FCOM). A paper-based version may well prove easier in use for reasons as suggested, and I have thought about getting it printed as such - but for me, it still has the same issues in 'Franglais' etc., and I still think that Airbus is adding confusion with details about stations and stages etc. - if they'd merely left it as a concise entry (arguably) that I posted earlier, or as Uplinker explains (you see, how much easier is Uplinker's explanation - night and day, what is said makes so much more sense) - then it removes that element of interpretation, confusion, doubt. You can call it 'dumbing down'. I'll readily admit to not being the 'sharpest tool in the box', but unless that information in 'Franglais' and the wordiness holds some kind of relevance in application to operating and handling - why do it?.

Apologies if joking isn't in place, but just occurred to me whether there might be Haynes manuals for Airbusses, like this one :
Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Boeing-747-Manual-Maintaining-Workshop/dp/1844259617) Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Boeing-747-Manual-Maintaining-Workshop/dp/1844259617)

:) haha - you know what, for thicko's like me, that might just work!