Airline Interview Questions – How to prepare

If you’ve been invited to an interview for a flight crew position, the hardest part is done. Now you need to seal the deal and show the company you are the right person for the job. This requires preparation and thought prior to the day itself.

If you’ve got an upcoming airline interview, make sure you are thoroughly prepared for the type of questions you’ll face and have developed considered, relevant answers using the STAR technique. Our Airline Interview Question Database consists of over 350 questions, split into 175+ Technical Questions and 175+ Competency Questions all with suggested answers. It’s a cost effective way of preparing for your upcoming interview.

Here are some examples of the types of pilot interview questions included in our database (HR/Competency & Technical):

  • Give an example of when you have used your initiative?
  • Give an example of when you have solved a problem as a team?
  • Tell us about a time when you disagreed with a team member? What was the outcome?
  • When should you increase your final reserve fuel to 45 minutes?
  • What is Mach Tuck?
  • In meteorology what is the SALR?

All of the questions come with suggested answers to help you prepare. We also have a separate interview question database for Cadet Pilots who have an interview with a flight school or airline for an MPL or Cadet Program.

Visit our Airline Interview Question Database Page for more information.

Can mobile phones really be dangerous to use on aircraft?

This is a question we are often asked by passengers. The simple answer is possibly!

The first thing to remember is even if you tried using a mobile phone it is unlikely you will get a signal above 5000ft, however that does not stop the phone searching for one.

The reality is with modern GPS navigation systems on commercial aircraft is that a mobile phone that is being used on an aircraft is unlikely to cause any issues to onboard flight deck navigation equipment. That said there have been 2 incidents where some electromagnetic interference has been suspected but not proven. In recent times this was the Crossair flight 498 which crashed 2 mins after take off from Zurich on 10th January 2000.

Investigators conducted various tests on the same aircraft type – a SAAB 340B to see if they could replicate electromagnetic interference through the use of mobile phones, however they were unable to demonstrate mobile phones had any effect on the aircraft systems so the incident was mainly put down to pilot error.

On 6th June 2003 an Air Adventures Piper Chieftain crashed in fog on approach to Christchurch Airport in New Zealand. There were 8 casualties including the sole pilot, but there were 2 survivors. It was reported that the pilot made a phone call whilst on the approach and this contributed to the crash as he descended below the minimum descent altitude.

There is of course the suspicion that there may have been electromagnetic interference from making this call, but this was again not proven and it was more likely the distraction of the pilot making the call was the reason for the crash.

So it appears electromagnetic interference with aircraft systems is unlikely, however the team at FDF including myself have experienced distractions through our radio headsets when a mobile phone is looking for a signal.

It is the same noise you get when a phone sends out signals and you stand next to a large speaker. It can be very distracting and make ATC radio calls hard to make out.

Some airlines already authorise the use of mobile phones in the air but that is through the aircrafts network system, most airlines now allow mobile phones to be switched on and used during ground operations but most airlines believe most of their customers would rather not have everyone onboard in their immediate surroundings talking on mobile phones so many do not approve voice calls but of course many airlines now have wifi onboard so texts, emails etc can be used.

EASA who is the European Aviation regulator does allow mobile phones to be used in flight including voice calls but it is up to individual airlines to allow and make the safety case to the regulator to allow their use.

We can see in 5-10 years time voice calls on aircraft will probably be the norm!

What are the challenges flying through Africa?

Africa is a vast continent and although their aviation infrastructure has improved over the last 10 years they are still way behind North America and Europe.

Weather:

Weather forecasting particularly en-route can be poor and unreliable. Often we rely on other aircraft ahead to report CB’s and turbulence.

Weather can become extremely developed especially close to the ITCZ where I have seen CB’s in excess of 100 mile circumferences reaching heights in excess of 45,000ft.

I took this picture a few nights ago and you can see how difficult it can be to identify and avoid huge areas of CB activity. We are just 20 miles away from this cell with the sunrising out to the east and we are cruising at 38,000ft.

Communications:

In some areas Air Traffic control is poor with limited facilities, however on some of the main airways (north / south) through FIR’s (flight information region – an Air Traffic Control area which can span several countries) that cover countries such as Algeria, Niger, and Chad, Air Traffic Control have become CPDLC (Controller Pilot Datalink Communications) enabled.

This system is effectively a method of controlling aircraft through text messages that are sent via aircraft ACARS systems which use VHF signals and satellite.

I can make requests from ATC just as I would via voice, these can include lateral deviations, climb and descents and position reporting. ATC can send me instructions and I can accept or reject them just as I would via voice.

VHF communications in Africa is fairly unreliable due to limited coverage and facilities. Primary communication in many FIR’s is via HF which is largely unreliable. We often rely on other aircraft who are in range to relay messages.

It is very difficult sometimes to get hold of an Air Traffic Controller and on previous occasions I have flown through a whole FIR without managing to raise ATC. In certain areas within Africa with the poorest communications we have an In-Flight Broadcast Procedure (IFBP).  See photo right.

All airlines follow this and it involves having another radio frequency – 126.900 where we provide position reports to other aircraft and if required resolve conflicts between ourselves.

Some airlines follow an IATA recommendation to fly 1 nautical mile right of the airway track, the objective of this is to try and further minimise conflicts with other aircraft.

Most areas do not have radar coverage so they rely on aircraft position reports to maintain separation from other aircraft. This is similar to crossing the Atlantic.

Airport Facilities:

Some Airfield facilities are limited and unreliable although main airports will normally have radar control and ILS systems on at least one runway. Airfield lighting can be poor.

Particularly when operating flights from North Africa (From Europe) to South Africa there are areas where alternate airports are not advisable to operate into. Due to this we can often be several hundreds of miles away from a suitable airport to divert to in the event of an emergency.

This is normally to do with a lack of facilities, immigration, customs, hotels and transport, but can also be due to perceived dangerous areas where there could be political un-rest, terrorism, corrupt governments, high levels of crime or other issues.

Some areas are deemed to be so dangerous with no public order that if an aircraft was to divert into an airport in one of these areas then it is likely the airline would lose the aircraft, it would be commandeered. These airports are only to be diverted to if loss of life is imminent for example an uncontrolled fire onboard.

In many African airports there is a risk of stowaways. This is where members of the public break through the airport perimeter to try and get onto an aircraft, normally in cargo holds or landing gear bays to seek asylum or residency in a more developed country.

To avoid this there are sometimes security patrols that follow the aircraft on its taxi out and in, further patrols are deployed around departure and arrival times to the airport perimeter fence. Aircraft try to remain moving at a reasonable speed when taxiing in or out and have all their lights on to try and spot any intruders.

Flight plans also have to be constructed to avoid certain countries airspaces, in Africa this currently includes Libya and just to the east of Africa – Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Some countries in Africa we can fly over but it is recommended to remain above 25,000ft to mitigate missed attacks from the ground.

In most other areas in the world flight plans are constructed to give aircraft the shortest route (taking into account winds), In Africa we fly the safest routes even if the routing is significantly longer.

In summary, there have been big improvements made, particularly in communication with the introduction of CPDLC in some areas but it is still very different to flying in Europe or North America.

This week we look at aircraft checklists. Why and when are they used? 

 Checklists are so important in flight operations. If done correctly and methodically they are a vital check to ensure the aircraft is correctly configured for the next phase of flight.

This is one regulatory bodies definition of an aircraft checklist:

checklist system is to be used by crew members for all phases of operation of the aeroplane under normal, abnormal and emergency conditions as applicable, to ensure that the operating procedures in the Operations Manual are followed. The crew are to carry out the required actions in a coordinated, deliberate and systematic manner.

Generally there are two types of checklists used: Challenge and Response and Read and do.

With challenge and response is it normally the case that there will be a memory procedure to be performed by one or both crew members prior to the checklist being called for. This memory procedure must be carried out and then one of the crew members (depending on responsibility) will call for the checklist.

The pilot not flying or pilot monitoring will read the checklist starting with the checklist title – for example ‘Before Take off Checklist’. They will then read out the challenge to Pilot Flying, both pilots check the challenge status I.e. Trim, then PF responds with the correct response. PM then checks their response is corrected well as the action having been correctly completed.

If it appears that the item has not been completed or has not been completed correctly then the procedure or action is performed again and that checklist item is read again.

With Read and do checklists this will normally be the responsibility of pilot not flying and they will read a checklist out whilst performing the action from that checklist normally unmonitored by the other pilot. A good example of this is the After Landing Checklist. This checklist is still read out loud so the other pilot can hear their colleague completing the checklist. The pilot not flying would also still announce the completion of the checklist I.e. ‘After Landing checklist complete’.

If it appears that none of the items have been completed then the crew must complete their relevant procedures again and once complete, start the checklist again from the top.

Pilots are meticulous about checklists as they can cover us when we make mistakes. Checklists must be performed accurately and without interruption to guard against the danger of missing an item off the list.

Non-normal checklists are checklists that are designed to fix or allow redundancy to a technical problem. These checklists are normally found in a document carried onboard called the QRH (Quick Reference Handbook). There are hundreds of procedures on each aircraft and pilots simply cannot remember them all so the less urgent non-normal checklist items would be a read and do checklist monitored by the other pilot.

The difficulty sometimes could be locating and applying the correct checklist to the technical problem. Some more urgent actions for technical problems have memory items for pilots to perform urgently, but methodically and accurately before retrieving the correct checklist. Examples of technical problems that require urgent intervention are Engine Fire and cabin de-pressurisation.

Even small single engine aircraft have checklists. The only different thing being is there is only one pilot, so one has to be meticulous and accurate in reading and performing the checklist as there is not the 2nd pilot to check.
So remember with any checklist, wait for the correctly assigned crew member to call for the checklist. Pilot Monitoring reads the title of the checklist so all parties agree you are performing the correct checklist. For example ‘Before take off checklist’ Pilot Monitoring then reads the checklist announcing its completion once he / she is satisfied all items have been completed correctly. For example ‘Before take off checklist is complete’.
Any questions send them through to us at services@flighdeckfriend.com

One of our pilots answers common myths and questions asked by passengers

What does it sound like a dog is barking underneath the floor of the aircraft after engine start?

Ah, this is question we are often asked. I am not an Airbus expert (I fly the jumbo) but this is the noise of the PTU (Power Transfer Unit) its part of the hydraulic system and the PTU activates when hydraulic system pressure falls below a certain level. This is normally when Airlines are using single-engine operations on the ground, although the PTU can continue sometimes after both engines have been started.

Most airlines taxi out and in on one engine to save fuel and engine wear. This noise only occurs on twin engine Airbus aircraft but the noise is very noticeable and it does sound like your neighbours dog is trapped in the hold!

Rest assured this is normal and will stop when the second engine is running as the PTU is a backup redundancy based system.

Why do the engines sound like they are throttling back or shutting down shortly after take off?

There are various segments to a take off defined in the aviation module of performance.

Without going into too much technical jargon, effectively an aircraft does not require the amount of thrust it needs for take-off to the initial climb phase.

There are other benefits too, engine life is extended by not operating the engines for any significant period close to maximum thrust and by reducing thrust, the aircraft has less impact on the environment in terms of noise (for residents in the ground and passengers in the aircraft) and pollution.

Some airports have strict noise regulations and will enforce what are called noise abatement procedures on take-off.

The procedures can vary depending on where the noise issues are – one procedure is to get away from the ground with max thrust as quickly as possible then reduce thrust and accelerate the aircraft, this is typically used if there are noise sensitive areas further away from the airport and the other one is to reduce thrust as soon as possible but climb away at a lower speed to get the aircraft away from a noise sensitive area near the airport as quickly as possible.

Most take-off’s will involve some sort of reduction of thrust at 1000ft (20-30 seconds after take-off) and that is the change in the engine noise that you will notice. It is more pronounced on some aircraft engines than others particularly if it was what we call a performance limiting take off.

This is where the aircraft has to use maximum thrust to take off and climb away safely from the airport this could be due to a heavy aircraft (full passengers and bags / freight) and / or a short runway, high elevation airfield or high temperatures and less than favourable wind direction.

If this is the case the range from max thrust to climb thrust is greater therefore you get a more pronounced sound. Passengers worry about this thrust reduction especially if you have watched the film ‘Sully’ , but again it is perfectly normal.

What are the reasons for the aircraft to take off again when coming into land?

We call these procedures go-arounds or missed approaches.

Although it will almost certainly catch the passengers by surprise there is nothing to worry about, in fact it is normally the safer option which is why it has been chosen by the flight crew.

There are many reasons for go-arounds, but the main one is following an instruction from ATC, this would be for another aircraft not clearing the runway in time which is the most common cause of a go-around, it could also be for a bird strike on the runway from a previous aircraft.

Airlines have what we call stable approach criteria. This means that at a certain point on the approach normally 500ft or 1000ft the crew have to meet certain parameters which would include being in the landing configuration (gear down and locked and flaps in the planned landing setting), on the correct approach path (cannot be low or high) and at the correct speed with some leeway for windy days.

If these parameters are not met then the flight crew must elect to discontinue the approach and go-around.

Other reasons for go-arounds are weather, it may become apparent that the weather is outside the limits of the aircraft, i.e too windy, cloudbase too low, too much fog or the runway is too much contaminated by water / snow or ice.

Crews may also elect to go-around at any time if they are not satisfied with the approach or they may be landing the aircraft outside of the touchdown zone which could mean there would not be enough runway to slow down and stop.

A go-around can happen at any point including after the wheels have touched down.

Go-arounds do happen and they are nothing to be worried about. 9 times out of 10 they will re-position on the approach and land within 10 minutes.

When does an aircraft configure for landing?

It can be a fairly long process configuring an aircraft for landing.

To bring an aircraft in to land at a safe speed where we can stop the aircraft we have to use flaps and slats to allow us to fly at a slower speed, these devices are either operated electrically or hydraulically depending on aircraft type and it can take a while to extend these huge surfaces.

Descent planning is crucial, flight crews have to plan how many miles they require to lose the cruising altitude they are at and then slow the aircraft down.

Most aircraft are not very good at slowing down and descending at the same time as they are built to fly efficiently.

There may be restrictions in terms of speed and heights from ATC. Typically at 10000ft you have to reduce speed from your initial descent speed of 290-310kts (345mph) to 250kts.

We normally plan for a 3 degree angle descent so we can use our 3 times table to roughly work out how many miles we require to descend.

For example if we are at 38000ft which is a typical cruising altitude then 38 x 3 is 114 nautical miles and depending on the aircraft you would need another 10 miles to slow down so 125 miles before the airport we would need to descend at the very latest.

The point at which we would start configuring the aircraft would vary on the day depending on aircraft type, ATC and the airport we are flying into.

Typically at 15 miles we would reduce from 250kts to 210kts and start lowering flaps and slats. 180kts and an intermediate flap setting is pretty normal at 10 miles. Gear would be selected down at around 6 miles and then final flap selected a final approach speed acquired.

It is easy to get too high on the approach this may be due to wind or ATC restrictions.

We have speedbrakes that we can use which help us effectively ‘dump lift’ so we can use these to increase the rate of our descent or slow down.

These are located on the upper part of each wing and you can always feel when they are deployed as you feel a slight rumble throughout the cabin a little bit like turbulence.

What do pilots actually do in the cruise?

Many of the general public believe pilots ‘do nothing’ in the cruise. There is no doubt a much lighter workload, but it is not true that we ‘do nothing’!

This again varies quite a lot between short haul and long haul.

Short haul – The time in the cruise will vary naturally depending on the length of the flight. If the flight time is around an hour then you will have a very short time in the cruise. The tasks that need to be completed are top of climb fuel check, prepare for arrival – this will involve reading NOTAM’s, company briefing material, working out landing performance and conducting an approach briefing with your colleague. In between this there may be chance to have something to eat and touch base with the cabin crew to ensure all is well in the cabin.

Long haul – You can expect a minimum of 5+ hours in the cruise. In long haul things tend to happen quite a lot slower. Generally nothing will be done in the climb so certainly in the cruise there is a fair amount to do. Pilots generally start by building their situational awareness as they reach the cruise, this will involve looking out one engine inoperative descent requirements, MSA restrictions – these are especially important to know in the event of a de-pressurisation resulting in an emergency descent.

Pilots will look at options ahead on the route in case diversion is required, they will need to check weather, likely runway in use, performance to land including fire cover and ground facilities, MSA, Magnetic variation and NOTAM’s.

The flight plan will then be filled in, cruise centre of gravity will be calculated and the crew may need to consider requesting an oceanic clearance to cross the North Atlantic.

Once these duties have been complete, the pilots may need to work out rest requirements for an augmented crew (3 or more pilots), they will look at FIR boundary changes for a change of Air Traffic Control Service and get regular updates on applicable SIGMET’s (significant weather). Situational Awareness will need to be updated along the route in terms of alternate airports, weather and MSA.

Pilots have to perform regular fuel checks, system monitoring, MCP And FMC amendments and they are in constant communication with Air Traffic Control.

There is no doubt that on a long flight workload during the cruise is very low. There will be time for pilots to have food, read the newspaper, catch up company notices, look up technical information and maybe have a walk around the cabin or take some rest. Sometimes people are alarmed at pilots taking rest but it important at times of low workload and has been proven to increase a pilots responsiveness at periods of higher workload if they are well rested and not tired. Being very tired operating an aircraft can be a similar feeling to being drunk with reduced response times and lack of thinking ahead.

If there are any technical issues this can take up a fair amount of workload if there is a requirement to ‘manage’ a technical problem. As long haul flights carry significantly more passengers for longer periods there is also the increased risk of medical issues onboard. They are frequent events and I probably experience some sort of medical problem on 1 in 10 flights. This will need managing with potential calls to Medlink (doctors on the ground) and worse case a diversion could be required.

Part of the cruise will be dedicated to briefing for the arrival, the requirements will be similar to the short haul operation I have mentioned previously except the briefing and studying of material will normally take longer on a long haul flight because for one they normally have more time and two they are generally not as familiar with the destination and surrounding airspace and in different continents procedures can be very different.

So in summary yes there is downtime, but pilots don’t just do nothing in the cruise, there is still work to be done.

easyJet about to commence huge pilot recruitment campaign!

At the beginning of June, easyJet will be launching a recruitment drive for up to 450 new pilots in a campaign it calls ‘For the love of Flying’.

easyJet recruited 426 pilots last year so this year’s target would be a record. Opportunities will range from cadet pilots embarking on new careers to experienced First Officers and Captains.

easyJet currently employed more than 3000 pilots who fly around 265 Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft on 870 routes to 31 countries. easyJet’s plan is to continue to grow. They already have large orders for new A320neo aircraft but are changing some of those orders to the larger A321neo.

Around 300 of the new positions will be for cadet pilots and there will be a particular focus on recruiting more female pilots as part of easyJet’s Amy Johnson initiative.

Captain Brian Tyrell, easyJet’s Head of Flight Operations said ‘We’re really pleased that we are opening recruitment for up to 450 new easyJet pilot positions in a couple of weeks time. We pride ourselves on having a team of the highest talent and we offer our pilots a clear career path with the opportunity to develop from First Officer to Captain quicker than most other airlines’.

easyJet currently take cadets mainly from CTC although they have used CAE and FTE Jerez too. L3 Aviation Academy operate an easyJet Wings Programme under either the MPL or ‘traditional’ integrated formats.

On completion of the course you can expect to be offered a position as a Second Officer at one of easyJet’s European bases. The usual process is 12 months as a Second Officer and then should be promoted to a First Officer. Operate for 2 years as a First Officer and you can expect promotion to a Senior First Officer. Once in this position you will be considered for a command.

See our easyJet page for more info on expected salaries and benefits.

You have two weeks to prepare yourself before applications open. Naturally the sooner you apply after the opening date the better chance you have at being called for an assessment earlier.

Use some of our free guides to help prepare for your assessment along with our aptitude testing partners and our airline interview database question bank which is our best selling package.