Walking under an airplane: Practical AOS training


Rick inspecting the Airbus A330

It’s not often you get a chance to walk around underneath a commercial aircraft. Or any aircraft, for that matter.

So when Rick Tompkins, one of our AOS’s (Airport Operations Specialists), asked if I wanted to go with them for a walk-on of the Airbus A330, I jumped at the opportunity.

A walk-on is pretty much what it sounds like: the emergency responders go out to the plane, walk through it, and examine things like the brakes and cut-ins.

Although the AOS team is constantly training and studying to ensure that they’re ready for any emergency situation, “there’s no substitute for the real thing,” says Rick.

Getting to know an aircraft in 3D is an extra level of assurance that should there be an emergency, they’ll be able to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible.

They don’t do this for every flight, of course.

Regularly scheduled commercial flights at the Fredericton International Airport use aircraft which typically hold 19 – 75 passengers, and because they’re here every day our AOS’s are already familiar with those aircraft.

With Base Gagetown just 10 minutes away, though, we often have the opportunity to work with the Canadian Armed Forces to move troops and equipment through the Fredericton International Airport.

Moving hundreds of soldiers and all their equipment, these troop deployments often bring in larger aircraft that our crews aren’t as familiar with. So when those planes come in, our crews take the opportunity to take the knowledge they have from studying plane specifications and reinforce it by looking at the plane in person.

Airbus A330 taxiing to the terminal

Airbus A330 taxiing to the terminal

While I was happily wandering around taking photos and marvelling at being able to stand underneath a giant airplane—they may look big in photos, but that’s peanuts compared to being beneath the nose and looking up at one—the AOS’s were hard at work.

“It helps to see the actual plane, and look at things like where the cut-in’s are,” said Rick.

Sometimes these cut-in areas are marked on the plane, so that if you have to do a forcible entry you know that it’s a safe place to cut without hitting any wiring or anything else that could cause a problem.

Dan Hovey, the other AOS on duty that day, pointed out that they’re looking for the things they’ve already studied on paper.

In addition to the location of the cut-ins, “we’re looking for how many exits there are on the aircraft, where they’re located, how many passengers it carries, what’s the fuel capacity, where the cargo doors are, location of the engine switches in the cockpit, that sort of thing.”

Seeing these components on paper is good, but tangible interaction with the aircraft helps the AOS’s put things in the proper perspective.

Think about it this way: if you’ve ever tried to assemble your own furniture, you’ve come up against the difference between the way things look on paper and the way they look in three dimensions.


Inspecting the brake assembly

The guys also spent a lot of time looking at the brake assembly. Dan helpfully explained that this is in case they come in with a “hot brake.”

Yeah, I had no idea what that meant either.

“Hot brake is if they come in and the brakes are overheating. If that happens, they can blow a tire, and the brakes are right underneath the engine, so if there’s a fire obviously that’s not good either,” Dan clarified.


Luckily, mechanical issues are pretty infrequent and just because the AOS’s get a call doesn’t mean bad things are going to happen.

“Mostly a hot brake just needs to be monitored, and the trucks go out to follow the aircraft just in case.”


I feel safer knowing that our crews take every opportunity they get to reinforce their learning. Even when it’s the middle of winter and really, really, cold out on the tarmac.