A Typical Day For a Long Haul Pilot Operating The B747-400
The lifestyle of a long haul pilot
If you thinking of Becoming a Pilot or you’re a short haul pilot thinking of making the switch, you probably want to get a feeling of what a typical day for a long haul pilot is like. Before the main article, which is a blog on a flight between Heathrow and Las Vegas, we have listed some of the typical questions asked about lifestyle as a long haul pilot.
Do long haul pilots get time off down route?
Yes. Long Haul pilots require more time off than short haul pilots so they usually get time off down route to be able to enjoy the beach or visit the city. Time off down route varies from 24 hours to a few days depending on the airline’s schedule. The airlines cover your hotel costs down route as well as giving you a subsistence allowance to buy your food and drink.
How many days off do long haul pilots get a month?
Because of the length of flights, long haul pilots require more time off between flights. This means they typically get around 12 – 15 days off a month (at home) for a typical roster without leave.
Do long haul pilots get paid more money?
Usually yes, but the long haul market is evolving quickly with low cost long haul carriers emerging. The result is that whilst it’s usually the case (with legacy carriers), it’s not always the case.
A Typical Day As A Long Haul Pilot
This is one of our pilots typical day at ‘the office’. A long haul flight from London Heathrow to Las Vegas on a Boeing 747-400. It represents a typical day for a long haul pilot.
So the day before departure I check the weather just to confirm it’s boiling hot and that I will be requiring an array of shorts and flip flops! I pack my suitcase (this trip is 6 days long), check any notices that have been issued in my week off, ensure all my apps are up to date on my iPad and the iPad is fully charged along with my battery pack (Our mature jumbo jets do not have power available in the flight deck). As I’m packing my bags I try not to appear too happy to be going to Vegas for 6 days, the wife picks up on this and she finds it especially annoying if I whistle in a jolly way as I’m packing the sun tan lotion, so I have learnt to avoid whistling until I’m in the car on my own driving to work!
Report time (the time I have to be ready at the briefing room) is 1045. This means I will have to be in the staff car park by 1000 to catch the bus to the terminal, check in my bags and ensure I can take care of any admin housekeeping before proceeding to the briefing area. Just as I’m on the bus I get a text message from a flight crew colleague on short haul (we always have a bit of long haul vs short haul banter – poor guys!!!) as his brother and wife are on our flight and he wanted us to try and ensure they get on (they are on standby). We are lucky on the Jumbo as we have at least 6 spare cabin crew jump seats we can use for staff passengers, on some flights (depending on the length and time of flight) we get a club world seat allocated to the flight deck for rest if we choose not to use our bunk beds in the flight deck.
After checking in my bag I head to our Crew Report Centre which is a huge area with about 12 briefing rooms, offices, managers, currency exchange, coffee shops, luggage stores and our own dedicated security checkpoint. I check in on the computer terminals 15 mins early, check any notices (by checking in I’m confirming I have a valid licence, medical and am up to date with all new notices from the company). We have been assigned briefing room number 1 today and the cabin crew (14 today) are all inside the room briefing. I meet up with the other 2 pilots (we have 3 due to the length of the flight and so we can share rest) and after the pleasantries are out of the way we decide who is going to operate the 2 sectors (one flight there and one back). So one pilot will not operate the controls for take off and landing during this trip. This decision will first of all be based on currency and by that I mean every pilot has to do one takeoff and landing in a month (in my company it is 35 days). Due to annual leave, sickness or other reasons it could be that a pilot needs to do the flight to maintain his/her currency. The Captain will be sat at the controls for both flights during take off and landing, the 2 Senior First Officers will rotate, one will be rostered to be the operating pilot outbound and the other will be the ‘heavy pilot’. This will normally swap round for the inbound flight. We call it heavy not because first officers tend to be overweight but because we are operating with a ‘heavy’ crew, a crew composition that is higher than required to operate the aircraft. On ultra long flights (over 12 hours each way) we have 4 pilots. So we decide that I will operate the flight outbound as pilot flying. This means although I am not the Captain, the Captain will delegate most of the decisions to me, I will conduct the take off and landing and lead all the briefings.
The flight today is full, which is no surprise and we do have staff on standby trying to get on. The first thing we do is print off the paperwork and check on our trip report that there are no company messages specific to our flight. Examples of these might be security messages (recommendations not to leave the hotel), portable water fill levels (the water that comes out the taps – on shorter flights we do not fill it up to capacity due to the extra weight as not all the water will be required).
CREW ROOM BRIEFING
We then move onto the briefing, looking at the significant weather charts across our whole route which would highlight any issues, we look at departure, destination and alternate airports weather and notams in detail, we look at en-route alternates, en-route airspace notams and sigmets, we perform a check to ensure we will not be too heavy to land at the destination and alternate airport. We check to ensure all of us have watched the video presentation for Las Vegas. The airport is categorised by my company as Category B which effectively means there are various challenges in operating into the airport. Today, the weather is very hot, forecast is 40 degrees, Las Vegas has some interesting non-precision approaches and is surrounded by high terrain as well as being 2,500ft above sea level. Today, we also have thunderstorms and forecast severe turbulence en-route.
With the briefing we are effectively looking to see if we can depart out of the departure airport, operate into the destination and alternate airports taking into account the weather and notams. Once the answer is yes, we then need to decide on how much fuel to take. Do we need any extra over and above the flight plan minimum requirement? Extra fuel costs a lot of money, for every extra 1,000kgs of fuel we take we use about 1/3 of it just to carry it! We have a flight plan that is very accurate and details exactly how much fuel we need. Minimum fuel for this flight is 114,200kgs of fuel – a lot!!! The Jumbo can actually hold 173000kgs of fuel which is actually the weight of approx 2, maybe 3 fully loaded medium size aircraft and that’s just our fuel load. Our take off weight today will be around 340,000kgs.
Once the briefing is complete we enter the briefing room (our station with a computer and a printer is just outside) introduce ourselves to the cabin crew and we brief them on the flight details and we would normally conduct a joint briefing where we would talk about a particular issue that is relevant on our flight or has occurred recently for example what actions are required in the event of a toilet fire, how would the communication work and then we would detail what our actions and thought processes would be in the flight deck especially on the subject of a diversion and how long that may take if we are mid-Atlantic. We confer with the cabin crew regarding the use of cabin crew jump seats to allow extra staff passengers to travel. Today, we decide on allowing all the spare ones to be occupied which is 6. We have 2 upstairs on the upper deck, 2 at door 2 right and 2 at door 4 right. Once out of the briefing room we decide what order (if any) we would like staff to be on loaded into the jump seats, this is always the Captains authority. We call flight management and tell them this information so they can start planning to issue jump seat boarding cards to allow some of our staff colleagues on the flight.
After this we proceed to security and go through as a whole crew together. Our flight today operates from Terminal 3 so we have to catch a bus across to the aircraft. The company stipulate timings for everything to try to ensure an on time departure so we have to be at the bus at a certain time and the cabin crew have to be ready to board at a certain time.
On the bus we have chance to chat to the crew about everyone’s plans for the trip, unfortunately for the cabin crew they only get a 4 day trip which is still 2 nights, they are planning on a bit of socialising and sunbathing and some are visiting the outlets for shopping.
AT THE AIRCRAFT
Once on the aircraft we liaise with the TRM (turnaround manager) on any issues there may be, the cabin crew complete their checks and we complete ours. The PF (pilot flying – me) will normally enter the data into the FMC, PNF/PM (pilot not flying – the captain today) will perform the setups on all the panels, calculate take-off performance through our ACARS system along with the ATIS (the latest weather information for Heathrow detailing runway in use). The heavy pilot completes the external check of the aircraft as well as our cockpit security checks including our toilet and bunk rest area which are all enclosed in the flight deck.
Time management is crucial here, typically we will only be on the aircraft 40-45 mins before departure so there is a fair amount to do and we normally agree a time we would start briefing, the briefing normally takes around 15 minutes including what we call the critical data entry procedure which is where we enter all the performance in terms of take off thrust setting, speeds, clearance and setting up the Mode Control Panel into our Flight Management Computers. Getting a long haul flight ready for departure is literally an event. There are so many people and processes involved and you only need one process to fail or the smallest issue to arise and the flight will go late, this is compounded by capacity issues at Heathrow whereby it is quite usual to close the doors on time and ask for push and start only to be told we have a start up delay due to congestion.
The briefing focuses on identifying threats and talking about how we can avoid, trap and mitigate them, it is another opportunity to go over any recall / memory items and revise which pilot does what, the briefing is important as an effective briefing involves everyone and sorts out any ambiguity. If I have spoken about various threats and what I will do to avoid them and one of the threats actually occurs then everyone knows what the other person has said they will do and if they don’t do it then they can verbalise it straight away without hesitation. There is no time wasted with one pilot thinking ‘I wonder if he is going to do that, or ask for this’. Although we operate strictly to our company SOP’s there are many ways that things could be done and many pilots have slightly different thoughts on various emergencies, little things they may do or ask for which could help, so it’s also good to talk about these. An example would be turning the aircraft or stopping straight ahead in the event of an RTO (rejected take-off) with an engine fire warning. It can be useful to turn the aircraft in strong winds to stop the wind blowing the fire and fumes onto the fuselage, however it may also be prudent not to turn such a large aircraft on a 45 metre runway as there is little room to manoeuvre, turning could also restrict access for emergency services on the paved surface and slides would be deployed for passengers to land into the grass. Lots of things to consider. The briefing is interactive with the heavy pilot also playing a part although the briefing is always led by pilot flying.
Today we get the call from downstairs in the cabin from the cabin crew member in charge stating that there are customers missing at the boarding gate and the TRM has instructed the ramp team to start looking for their bags so that they can be offloaded. It appears we will not be going on time. Our TRM changes our TOBT (this is a target off blocks time which enables ATC to better plan ground movements). Eventually the passengers are located before we find their bags and they are allowed to board the aircraft, we get the doors closed and I do a welcome onboard PA to everyone. With the PA our company requires us to state several items as mandatory requirements including introducing the flight crew team and my companies policy on safety and security which includes the recommendation for customers to keep their seat belts fastened whilst seated even when the seat belt sign is off. On long haul we always recommend that customers fasten their seat belt over their duvets or blankets to avoid being disturbed by the crew if the we have to put the seat belt sign on at short notice.
We confirm the doors are actually all closed by our pictorial diagram of the aircraft doors on one of our screens. I then speak to Air Traffic Control stating our aircraft type, stand number, latest weather information identifier (this is a letter of the alphabet and the information is called an ATIS), QNH pressure setting, PDC (confirmation we have received a pre-departure clearance) and confirmation that we are ready. Unfortunately we are then given a 10 minute start up delay on stand. I communicate this to our ground crew that are waiting on the tarmac to push us back.
Eventually we get going 20 mins late. We pushback start all 4 engines, run the before taxi checklist and get our taxi clearance. At Heathrow different ground controllers have different areas of responsibility so they will only clear you to the limit of their authority before transferring you to the next one. We are departing from runway 27L and once we start to reach some of the holding points for the runway we can see there is at least 12 aircraft ahead of us. It has taken us 12-13 minutes to taxi the aircraft to this point and it looks like we will have a further 15 minute wait before it’s our turn to take off, the joys of Heathrow!!! We do a mini-brief update to see if any conditions or parameters have changed for take off and revise the crucial parts, we run the before take off checklist and receive a message from the cabin crew that they are secure for departure in the cabin. This message is conveyed initially by each crew member stationed at the doors on the left hand side of the aircraft over the phone to the senior crew member who then instructs the crew to take seats for take off, she then presses a button on her panel and we get an electronic message in the flight deck stating the ‘cabin is ready’. Once we are all ready for departure and I have the park brake set I do another PA to the customers updating them on the reason for the delay at the holding point. On the ground we try to do PA’s to the customers as often as possible to keep them in the loop with what is going on, there is nothing worse when you’re sat on an aircraft as a passenger with nothing happening and no information.
It’s finally our turn for departure, we check the clearance with each other from ATC to ‘line up and wait 27L’. We check visually for traffic on approach and also check our navigation displays for TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) traffic. Once lined up you have to be ready to depart as soon as ATC clear you as airports want to try and maximise their capacities for traffic on the runways, if everyone took 15-30 seconds to set thrust, over a day it could mean some aircraft not being able to depart later in the day. We check the wind direction and speed, ATC will read us the wind with the take off clearance but there are also wind socks we can use. Now comes one of the best parts of the job, this bit never gets boring! ATC give us take off clearance, we set our elapsed time clocks to run, and I stand the thrust levers up, confirm engines are stable and then press the TOGA buttons on the top of the 4 thrust levers, the thrust levers then set the take off thrust automatically, considering the weight of the aircraft the acceleration still amazes me.
At this point in my head I’m thinking about stopping the aircraft in an emergency and almost reciting my actions in my head. I’m transferring my eyes to outside to keep the aircraft straight and the wings level, whilst looking inside checking my PFD (Primary Flight Display) for the speed and also the EICAS (Engine Indications Crew Alerting System) for the engine parameters to ensure they are normal. There are several emergencies I can call stop for and the Captain can call stop for anything he/she likes but normally we would only stop for major emergencies like an engine failure, any fire on the aircraft, wind shear warning, take off config warning, blocked runway or some sort of control restriction. Stopping an aircraft this size is a major and challenging manoeuvre. With any minor items it is normally safer to continue the take off. The pilot monitoring (the Captain today) calls 80 kts which is just under 100mph, this is a check to ensure I am still alive and I’m not incapacitated but it is also a check to remind us that after this point we are more “continue” minded and we are only going to stop the aircraft for something very major.
I receive the call of V1 (take off decision speed) which I acknowledge by taking my left hand off the thrust levers as we are now committed to taking off, V1 is the last chance a decision can be made to stop the aircraft without us going off the end of the runway. Whatever happens now we are taking off! At the call of rotate I gently pull back on the column and rotate the aircraft into the air. The rate is 2.5 degrees a second and my target pitch is 15 degrees. The Captain calls positive rate – this ensures we are safely climbing away from the ground before retracting the landing gear, I then call ‘gear up’ and he raises the landing gear. The gear provides a lot of drag so as soon as it can be retracted the better as we can improve our climb performance.
We are heavy so we climb slowly at around 1,000ft per min. At 1,000ft we have to perform a noise abatement procedure which involves accelerating normally only a few knots (we took off at 160kts which is around 185mph) to retract one stage of flap, we reduce power from take off thrust to climb thrust and climb away with flap 10 out until we reach 4,000ft at this point we then accelerate further and retract the flaps. Typically out of London we may not get continuous climb so we may have to level off at an intermediate level or altitude. At this point we are thinking about other aircraft, descending towards us, we can avoid this threat by managing our rates of climb. Once cleared above transition level we set a standard pressure setting on our altimeters and at 10,000ft we accelerate to our climb speed which is 320kts today. The captain turns off all the external lights and we have a discussion regarding whether it is safe to switch the seat belt signs off. There looks to be some weather we may need to fly through so we hold off on the seatbelt signs until we get higher. The cabin crew (unless we have said otherwise) automatically release themselves to commence their duties. After we climb through 20000ft we release our heavy pilot to commence his rest in the bunks in the flight deck. This is a bit like a small cabin on a ship with bunk beds, we have lighting and heating controls with pillows and sleeping bags.
IN THE CRUISE
At cruising altitude we start our paperwork, monitor the aircraft systems and discuss contingency planning, we will look at the weather and notams for en-route airfields, our first available one is Shannon in Ireland so we plot that on our navigational displays and have a quick look at the ILS chart for the approach in use which is onto runway 24. We send off an oceanic clearance to Shanwick control. Effectively there are tracks for all aircraft planned to cross the Atlantic or we could be planned on a random route that our company has chosen. The tracks are modified every day and during the day they go east to west and at night west to east as that is where the majority of the traffic movement is. The tracks are planned to avoid any weather if possible whilst taking advantage of the wind as best as possible, flying towards the US and Canada you can expect to have headwinds so we pick routes where the headwinds are least outside of the jet streams and on the way back we pick tracks that are in the jet streams to take advantage of the tailwind. To give an example we would expect the flight time coming back from Vegas to be at least 90 minutes quicker. There is no radar over the Atlantic so air traffic control plan aircraft at different levels, speeds and tracks to keep separation, you must maintain the track and the level although there may be an opportunity to change level later on.
The cabin crew call is every 30 mins to check we are ok and vice versa and this is normally done over the phone and is an opportunity for us to brief each other on any situation that may be arising. We continue to monitor the aircraft systems, including the temperature in each zone of the aircraft, fuel checks and planning and contingency planning. We revisit the actions and plans if we were to have an engine failure.
We then get to choose some lunch from a menu and the cabin crew on the upper deck bring this in for us. Entry to the flight deck is monitored, they would usually call us to warn us they are coming and we have cameras around the door to check it is clear before electronically unlocking and opening the door. There is also a keypad by the door and the cabin crew can request entry through that, however, we can always accept or deny entry.
I plan the rest for each pilot, today we get 2 hours and 50 minutes each. So effectively the heavy first officer will cover our breaks as he/she takes the first rest, we have an alarm that wakes him up in the bunk area and he would come out and sit in the Captains seat and my seat to cover each of our breaks in turn. In the bunk sometimes I sleep, sometimes I may read a book or watch a programme on my iPad. Our bunk area on the 747 is great, it can only be accessed from the flight deck and is very quiet and dark so really helps us get some rest. During low workloads it is much better to ensure we all rest so we are all awake and alert for the approach and landing when the workload is higher. The pilot flying will normally choose which break they would like to have. I decided to take the middle break.
CROSSING THE ATLANTIC
Crossing the Atlantic we speak to air traffic control through our HF radios and through our FMC, it is a little like text messaging and it’s called CPDLC. We have to get a clearance to avoid weather and we have a dedicated frequency 123.450 which we tune up so that all pilots in a similar area can talk to one another, it’s not for idle chit chat but more for warning others about weather or turbulence. Half way across the Atlantic we switch to Canada air traffic controllers. The flight plan today has us routing towards Goose Bay which is quite far north and even after making landfall in Canada there are not many options to land in an emergency. The routing has us eventually turning south into the US over Minneapolis and then towards Salt Lake City approaching Nevada and Vegas from the North.
Before heading off for my break I head off for a walk around the aircraft to stretch my legs and chat to the cabin crew to check they are all ok. It is a good way of picking up on an issues as we cannot see their body language when we speak on the phone. Inevitably you may get chatting to some customers, I also quite like to grab some chocolate to keep the energy levels up (Ha! I just love chocolate!) from our club kitchen which is a buffet area in the Club World galley where there is sandwiches, ice cream, drinks, biscuits and chocolate that you can help yourself to. As I mentioned earlier we are full today so even half way through the flight there are a lot of people standing up, drinking and being quite loud, especially in world traveller cabin. The cabin crew down there are very busy and running out of alcohol I suggest putting on the seat belt signs for 20 minutes to give them a chance to tidy up, bring the noise levels down a bit for other customers and give them a chance to get organised for the next service. Half the cabin crew are on their breaks and we have bunk beds in the roof of the aircraft above the rear galley. It is quite a claustrophobic area in the cabin crew rest area, there are spiral stairs that are steep that lead up into the roof from the rear galley, once in the roof there are 4 normal seats for crew to sit in if they wish or if you head further towards the front of the aircraft there are numerous bunk beds with sleeping bags, duvets and pillows. I head back up to the flight deck to start my rest and change into my pyjamas and manage to get my head down for 90 mins or so.
I am woken up to the ‘ding dong’ that means the end of my rest, like any alarm clock its not a popular noise. We always try to get out of the bunk rest facility quickly so the next guy can get in to maximise their opportunity to sleep. We can get changed again and cleaned up in the flight deck whilst the other pilot continues to fly the aircraft.
Back in the seat we are now in Canada and whilst flying the aircraft, checking weather and notams for alternates and liaising with the cabin crew regarding turbulence reported ahead, the other SFO and I are planning the Arrival procedure, Approach and taxi in to Vegas. The first thing I do is work through all the notams, some of the notams indicate taxiways are closed or have reduced wing span clearances, I mark these with a red high marker on my iPad chart app. I work out the performance for each runway in terms of how much tailwind we can take at our estimated landing weight and what setting on the auto brake we can use with either idle, partial or full reverse. We use reverse thrust to save brake wear and if it is a short turnaround it stops the brakes getting overheated. If we are using the auto brake on the landing roll then we will not stop any sooner by using reverse as the braking distance will be the same, controlled by the auto brake. We check the Airport notes which is under the AOI section of our charting app, we also check our companies briefing notes about the airfield. We are expecting to do a non-precision approach onto either 19L or 19R, both these runways are on the short side for a 747. (this is sort of let down procedure via imaginary points in the sky or by using other less accurate navigation aids – normally we use ILS approaches at most airfields which is an accurate system giving us lateral and vertical precision guidance to the runway). Typically we are using runways around the world in excess of 3000 metres. The 747 can land no problem on shortish runways in fact we could just about do around 1400 metres with max braking in normal conditions. However, as it is such a large aircraft if it is a shortish runway we need to take particular care in ensuring we land in the touchdown zone and preferably on the markers. The non-precision approaches are both in excess of a normal 3 degree glideslope, this all points to the threat of a runway excursion (running off the end of the runway) which can be created by a fast un-stable approach with a potentially long landing. This is further compounded by ATC keeping you high due to restrictions on radar vectoring due to terrain and helicopter traffic corridors that head towards the Grand Canyon. We will also expect to be cut in very tight for a short final approach as ATC cannot vector us further than 6NM north due to Nellis Air Force Base being on the extended centre line. These threats will be discussed in the approach briefing.
PASSENGER MEDICAL ISSUE
Next, the cabin crew call with a customer in Business Class who is experiencing chest pains. We have a contract with a facility called Medlink. This a facility where we can call them up on our satellite phone and obtain advice and direction on how to proceed. They have specialist aviation doctors available to talk to. They will also give a recommendation on continuing or diverting the flight. Medlink know all the medical supplies we have onboard and also know the training our cabin crew have. In the event of a diversion they can advise on the suitability of a diversion airfield in terms of their medical facilities on the ground. If we had a choice we would rather divert to an airfield that a nearby full facility hospital where our customer can receive the care they require very quickly. Luckily today we have a doctor onboard who is assisting the cabin crew and Medlink recommend us to just keep the customer on oxygen and monitor them, with the doctors assistance we are advised to continue to Las Vegas unless the customer gets worse. Medlink arrange a medical team to meet us on arrival.
We have made up some time but are till going to arrive late into Las Vegas my next job is to speak to our ground teams at Vegas and make a plan for some of our connecting customers. They advise they believe the customers will still make their connections with some assistance so we arrange ground staff to meet some of our customers at the top of the airbridge on arrival and we pass this information on to the CSM who passes on the information to the customers.
Next it is time to wake the Captain up, we order him a nice strong coffee to help him get back in the zone as quickly as possible, we brief the approach, arrival and taxi in, along with contingency’s and how we are actually going to fly the RNAV approach in terms of the modes we shall use on the mode control panel, discuss alternates and their weather and suitability, along with revising some memory action manoeuvres that are pertinent to this approach including TCAS RA (a mandatory command to manoeuvre to avoid another aircraft) in the landing configuration due to helicopter traffic and GPWS Pull up (a mandatory command to climb the aircraft with max thrust to avoid terrain) due to the surrounding terrain. We discuss missed approach procedures and chose a high speed exit to the runway that if we have not got the wheels down by that point we shall initiate a missed approach. At 40 minutes to go I do a PA to our customers detailing the arrival time, route and weather information. We always put the seat belt signs on a minimum of 20 minutes before landing to give the cabin crew the time they need to secure the cabin. For example, if the electronic seat adjustment in First or Club World fails then the cabin crew have to manually restore the seats to their upright positions for landing.
APPROACH & LANDING
After the briefing and PA has been completed I give control to the Captain who will fly the approach for my landing. We are one of the few airlines to fly monitored approach procedures, most airlines operate this way in low visibility procedures but we do it all of the time. It has the advantage that both pilots at the controls are involved in the approach and the objective for the captain today is to get the aircraft to 1000ft on the approach meeting the Stable Approach Criteria. I would then take control and land. It really is true (like the saying) a good approach leads to a good landing. Today, we are cleared by ATC to descend with the arrival. In the US this means we are free to descend at our own discretion but must meet all of the restrictions on the arrival. Our FMC has this all programmed and we have checked it so the autopilot should do this automatically for us in VNAV mode. We then get given a short cut which reduces are track miles, so therefore we have descend the aircraft a little more aggressively by using the speed brake. The speed brake just gives us more drag so if we descend at the same speed with the speed brake out then we can achieve a higher rate of descent. The captain has to work hard as today vectoring by ATC is quite poor and they keep us higher than we expected. We do manage to get on the vertical profile and lined up with the runway at 4 miles out fully configured with the landing gear and flaps. We get the auto-callout from the flight deck speaker system of ‘1000’ telling us we are at 1000ft Radio altitude – actual height above the ground. I visually check we have met all of the stable approach criteria and call ‘stable, visual, I have control’. I take control and disconnect the autopilot and auto throttle, its a little windy, we have around 15kts (20mph) of wind from the left, so the speed is a little unstable which requires constant thrust corrections. At around 100ft, everything looks ok, at 30ft I flare by raising the nose slightly, I squeeze the right rudder pedal to bring the aircraft in line with the runway and counter act the rolling motion by a small amount of left aileron down. The main gears touch the runway firmly, I lower the nose gently and the captain ensures the speed brake deploys and gives me partial reverse thrust on all 4 engines. Its important to lower the nose gently as the nose wheel is not designed to support large forces unlike the main gear, first class is also directly above the nose wheel!!! So my days work is almost complete and although we have been working hard for the last 12 hours or so, I know according to our passengers the quality of my work will be assessed in the last 30 seconds!! It wasn’t the best landing, but it wasn’t awful either. I jokingly give it 6/10, but the Captain gave me 7/10 – clearly he wants me to buy the first round of drinks! Even more so on larger aircraft it is so important to land at the right place and at the right speed more so than the actual touchdown feel, however every pilot will also tell you we would like to land at the right place, the right speed and make the wheels just kiss the ground! Unfortunately it doesn’t happen every day.
The final part is navigating the airports taxiways with ATC and it is very busy. We must ensure we stay alert and focussed until the aircraft is on stand with the park brake set. Approaching our stand we start the APU to give us electrical power when we shut the engines down and instruct the cabin crew to place the doors into manual mode – this means when the doors open the slide will not deploy. Each crew member will be responsible for their own door, but once they have placed their own door into manual mode they proceed across to the other side of the aircraft and check their colleague has correctly placed their door into manual mode. The CSM will then call each left hand door for them to confirm they have each got 2 doors at each station in manual mode.
I set the park brake and the captain switches the generators to the APU and shuts down the engines and switches off the seat belt signs. We run the shut down checklist and then I do a farewell PA to the customers. After this the three of us conduct a post flight review, this is effectively a de-brief and we discuss what went well, what didn’t and why it didn’t and how we can improve for next time.
We are then informed that some of the customers would like to come and visit the flight deck so we welcome a family with some young children, they sit in the seats with our hats on (I hope mine didn’t have too much hair gel stuck in it!) and we take some photos for them and answer any questions they may have, we always like to have a bit of banter with the passengers.
LEAVING THE AIRCRAFT
Once we have secured the aircraft, all the passengers are off and the cabin crew have completed their checks we all get off the aircraft together handing authority over to the engineering team. We head to immigration, which, yes it can take us just as long as the normal passengers to navigate through. The longest I have waited is about 2 hours, but not here today in Vegas, we are all through in about 25 minutes, we collect our suitcases and head towards our transport which is a large coach. We tip the driver for loading all of our cases, mine is always the heaviest, I overpack! Have a short de-brief on the bus with the cabin crew, but more importantly we discuss what the plans are for our ‘down-time’. Plan is to meet in the bar ASAP! We have got to the hotel at just before midnight UK time, but it is only 2pm here in Vegas. Luckily Vegas is one of our shortest transfers, it only takes 10 minutes from the airport, but a lot of our destinations can take up to two hours due to poor infrastructure and congestion.
Once in the hotel, we collect our keys which are normally all ready for us, some hotels will give us a mini-briefing on the facilities etc, but here we just grab our keys and head up to our rooms. We get discounts on food and sometimes drink in our hotels, the hotels want to encourage us to spend our money there, but rarely do I stay around the hotel. After a long day the key is to dump your bags, jump in the shower, touch base with home and get down to the bar, if you sit or lie down you don’t get back up again! My work is finished and I can enjoy the Vegas casinos, hotels and pool parties (even if I am too old!)!
I hope my wife doesn’t read this as she will confirm her thoughts that going to work is like a holiday!
Hopefully this gives you an insight into a typical day at work. If you have any further questions please select the ‘Ask an Airline Pilot a Question’ under the home menu on our webpage and one of will get back to you. We only have pilots working here at Flightdeckfriend.