Master of Vessel
Master of Vessel

Master of Vessel

I drown in the vehement roar of the ground power unit (GPU). A pair of tattered earplugs is the final defense between the crashing sound waves and my throbbing ear canal. The tarmac is well lighted. Well manned, too- not an uncommon sight in an Indian Airport, let alone one situated in crowded Kolkata.

I pace idly under the right wing of the Airbus 320.

20 minutes before…

Plop. Darkness envelops the cockpit. The once splashy display units now lack the live it once possessed, its dull surface un-telling of its previous illuminated state. A peep through the ajar cockpit door confirms that a similar fate befell the aircraft cabin.

The auxiliary power unit (APU) bailed on us.

Disembarkation is still in progress. The first officer flicks on the emergency lights in the cabin and I approve, because we pilots are a bunch of pessimistic cynics with a fixation on worst-case scenarios.

I once read that pilots spend most training time prepping for scenarios with meager odds of transpiration. Top that sardonic impulses with the natural tendencies of a control freak, it is a wonder pilots have friends.

But we persist, because flight safety is politically contentious our utmost concern.

I jab at the pushbutton to restart the APU. The APU is resurrected. I can hear the spinning turbine’s creaking motion…

The generators kicks online! The aircraft interior resumes its lighted glory…

… For 5 seconds. And we’re served with blackout 2.0.

10 minutes before…

The ground power unit is finally hitched to our unpowered aircraft. The instrument panels scintillate to life. We successfully resuscitate the APU, but merely for bleed air supply. A quick glance at the Electric page on the system display unit confirms our suspicions; the external power shoulders the bulk of the electrical heavy lifting.


The Pilot Transit Check instruction manual is firmly in my grip. I heed the refueling directive to the letter. Chocks- check. Safety cones- check.

At the refueling truck, stands an Indian Ed Sheeran. He greets me like a waiter at a restaurant. “Refueling?” he asked. Table for one, ma’am?

Ed fills a glass bottle with Jet A-1, empties the contents of a capsule into the translucent liquid and shakes it like a bartender mixing up a cocktail.

Shake shake shake.

The insoluble powder stirs around before it settles at the container’s base. I shine my torchlight at the clumpy bits to verify its color- white.

No water detected in the fuel- good.

I crack open the refueling panel near the belly of the aircraft. At 167 157 cm, I have to tip toe to reach the knobs.

The digital displays buzz to live. I click the TEST switch to LTS and watch the bulbs lit up in unison. The rocker switch is idiot-proof. I enter my desired fuel quantity- 14,000 kilograms.

The figure in the actual-quantity window increases, so I resume my go-to pose: left heel forward with arms folded and stare blankly at the changing numbers.

A fuel truck swap, another round of bartending queries with Ed, and what feels like eternity later, the END light illuminates.

A stack of paper work is thrust under my nose. I oblige, glancing through the prints.

Then, I initial under 3 dazzling words: master of vessel.

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