Cockpit Inspection - ECAM Review

You may recall that earlier it was mentioned that the preflight briefing doesn't necessarily mention every single bit of data you could possibly need to know about the state of the aircraft.

Fortunately there is a way to get some kind of idea if there are any really important things you should know about. To do this, you will need to go the ECAM control panel, which is located on the pedestal between the two MCDU devices. The illustration below shows what this looks like.

Drawing: Eric Bradley [© 2015]

This panel controls the display of information to the ECAM displays (there are 2 on the A320, upper and lower, located in the center of the forward panel). The upper ECAM display is used to show the most important system information that the pilots need to know.

Drawing: Eric Bradley [© 2015]

The top left quadrant shows gauges that indicate the percentage of max RPM (N1) for each engine, Engine Temperature (EGT) in Centigrade, percentage of max turbine power (N2) for each engine, and fuel flow to each engine. Any text that shows in cyan is something you can manually change, for example you could swap KG for LB if you have the ECAM model that includes conversion buttons.

The top right quadrant shows the thrust setting and percentage of power being delivered, and the total fuel on board. The lower left quadrant displays system status messages and warnings. And finally the lower right quadrant shows checklist items and memos. Depending on model, critical messages are shown in amber or red.

At the center of the bottom row of buttons on the ECAM panel there is a button marked "RCL" and what it does is if you press it in and hold it for 3 seconds it will show in the upper ECAM display all the cautions and warnings that were raised during the previous flight. Hopefully you won't see any at all, but it is good to know you can do this.

If you do see any warnings on the ECAM display, you will need to notify the maintenance crew and review the MEL to make sure you can still fly the jet safely. When there are no faults, the message "NORMAL" will appear on the ECAM for 5 seconds, as shown in the example below.

Drawing: Eric Bradley [© 2015]

It is important to understand that even though the screen shown above does display some engine information, it is not the same screen you would see if you pressed the ENG button. We'll get to that in a moment.

All of the buttons on the ECAM control panel that have horizontal lines on them correspond to a "page" that can be shown on the lower ECAM panel. Just to clarify a point, sometimes the upper ECAM panel may be referred to by some aviators as the Primary Engine Display and the lower ECAM panel may be called the Secondary Engine Display. These terms are not technically correct, but acceptable.

You may also hear ECAM referred to as EICAS. This is most definitely wrong, and is what happens when Boeing pilots transfer to the Airbus. They may still accidentally refer to Airbus systems using Boeing terminology.

It's acceptable as long as you know what the equivalent systems are between the two aircraft and also know the differences between them. Otherwise it can lead to confusion in the cockpit, which is potentially a very dangerous situation. Clear and accurate communication can make the difference between crash and no crash.

The next thing you will need to check is the hydraulics system. You want to know if the hydraulic fluid levels are sufficient. Press the HYD button on the ECAM control panel and a page similar to the illustration below should display on the lower ECAM display.

Drawing: Eric Bradley [© 2015]

The above image shows an unready hydraulics system. We will show you how to get the hydraulics ready in a later post about cold starting, so don't worry about that for the moment. When you receive the jet from a handover, the hydraulics should already be pressurized and ready to go, like this:

Drawing: Eric Bradley [© 2015]

If the hydraulics are looking healthy, you are ready to move on to the next step. Now you will want to press the ENG button on the ECAM control panel. This button is on the 2nd row on the left side of the panel. What you will be doing is looking at the oil levels and oil pressure and looking for any problems.

Drawing: Eric Bradley [© 2015]

If the engines have been off for a while then PSI should be at zero. It is perfectly acceptable for a value to show red if you are expecting it.

Finally, press the DOOR button (center row, between COND and WHEEL) and check the oxygen pressure level.

Drawing: Eric Bradley [© 2015]