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Airline Pilot

Airline pilots work for a particular airline and fly passengers and cargo on the airline’s route structure. Shorthaul flights usually mean flights within UK or Europe and the pilots and their aircraft normally return home to UK at the end of each day. On long-haul flights e.g. to the USA or the Far East, the pilots and cabin crew members stay overnight to rest before flying either home or further down the route. They may be away from home for a week or so. On some very long flights, a second crew of two pilots may be carried as a relief crew during the cruise at altitude. While the hours of duty of airline pilots are closely regulated, in general these pilots work unsocial hours, including at weekends and on Public Holidays. Those who do not fly for an airline can make their careers in flying instructing, air taxi work, business aviation, aerial photography, test flying and even display flying. In general, airline pilots get paid the best.

To understand more about the role of the Airline Pilot, look at the Flying Links page - follow the links to the Airline webpages, the magazine webpages and the links to aviation organisations such as The Honourable Company of Air Pilots (including the publication So You Want to Be a Pilot?) and join the Aviation Skills Partnership Network to become part of the network discussions and access the latest aviation information

In large airlines, the pilots rostered to operate a particular flight may not have met before. Hence, the emphasis is on a common high standard of flying and training, standardisation of operating procedures, and the need for the highest level of team work, both in the cockpit and with the cabin crew. This high operating standard is maintained by regular training and testing of emergency and other procedures in flight simulators. The aircraft captain is a very experienced pilot and has overall responsibility for the safety of the aircraft, crew and passengers. The captain and co-pilot usually fly alternate legs of a flight. Before take off, they need to prepare carefully for the flight. This includes: 

  • Reporting for duty up to two hours before the intended flight and meeting the other flight crew members.

  • Studying weather forecasts for take-off, travel en-route, destination and alternative diversion aerodromes

  • Noting any changes in route and aerodrome facilities and ATC and company requirements

  • Deciding on the amount of fuel required for the flight

  • Reviewing the planned route and checking the serviceability, loading and refueling of the aircraft

  • Ensuring that the weight of the aircraft for take-off, climb, cruise, descent and landing complies with aviation legislative requirements and company operating procedures

  • The Captain signing the aircraft Technical Log as being satisfied that the aircraft is serviceable for the proposed flight

  • Carrying out a series of pre-flight checks on the aircraft, including its navigation and operating systems

  • Discussing the proposed conduct of the flight with the co-pilot and the Chief of the Cabin Crew

  • Obtaining a start-up time, push-back and taxi clearance from Air Traffic Control (ATC).

The most demanding phases of a flight are the take-off and landing. To ensure safe distance from other aircraft in the congested airspace near aerodromes, the take-off, the initial climb-out and the approach for landing all have to be flown precisely in accordance with ATC instructions. Throughout the flight, pilots are in regular contact with Air Traffic Control, airline operations and can listen to other aircraft. Pilots also make in-flight announcements to give information to passengers. At the end of each flight the Captain has to complete the Technical Log and has a legal requirement to record any technical problems.

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Case Study

Paul Coltas

A319/20 First Officer, easyJet

I’ve wanted to be a pilot ever since I was four years old. In September 2004 I joined the inaugural BEng Aircraft Engineering with Pilot Studies degree at Salford University. Every Friday we would take a minibus to the RavenAir flying school at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, where we learnt to fly in the PA-38 Piper Tomahawk.

By the end of year 2 I had over 30 hours flying the Tomahawk. During my final year I began applying to Flight Training Academies. I applied to CTC and after passing the selection I was offered a place on the integrated training course. I graduated in July 2007 with a 2:1 in Aircraft Engineering with Pilot Studies (BEng). Three weeks later I was on a plane to Hamilton, New Zealand – within a year four more Salford graduates had joined the same programme.

We spent a total of 14 months in Hamilton, broken up by a couple of weeks back in the UK to sit our first set of ATPL examinations. Whilst in NZ I completed the single engine flying phase on the Cessna 172, before moving on to the shiny Diamond DA-42 Twinstar, complete with “glass cockpit” for the Multi Engine phase. New Zealand was an amazing experience, and by the time we left we were like one big family sharing some unforgettable memories.

Upon returning to the UK I sat the second set of ATPL exams, before completing my Instrument Rating on the DA-42 at CTC’s Bournemouth Training Centre.
In May 2009 we did our Airline Qualification Course on the Boeing 737-300, down in Southampton at CTC’s Nursling Training Centre. Ten months later, with the offer of a job flying the Airbus with easyJet, I returned to Nursling for the Airbus Type Rating.

I started with easyJet in May 2010, and after a week spent at their Training Academy in Luton, jumping down escape slides, fighting fires and swimming lengths wearing life jackets I was ready for my Base Training. Four of us reported at easyJet Gatwick at 0800, for a pre-flight briefing before boarding an empty A319 and flying up to Doncaster Airport. Once there it was over to us; we were each given an hour flying “Touch and go” circuits in order to hone our Take Off and Landing skills. That was the first time I ever flew a jet (apart from in a simulator) and a day none of us will ever forget!

Two weeks later I began Line Training, based at Liverpool. When you first start you are given a certain number of sectors to fly with a Training Captain, all of whom are very helpful and do a great job in preparing you for “flying the line”. Once the training sectors are complete, I had an Aircraft Competency Check, followed by a Final Line Check- a flight flown with a regular “Line Captain” whilst being assessed by a Training Captain sat on the jumpseat. When I passed, I was cleared “to the line”, meaning I can now fly with anyone. However the training and learning certainly don’t stop there; I am still learning and developing new skills every day.
I absolutely love my job and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. After doing my first ever solo flight at Liverpool Airport in May 2006, there is a great sense of achievement to be back there four years later flying a 60-tonne jet!

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James Basnett

Pilot, Boeing 737

I wanted to fly from a very young age, then one day, aged 17, I was invited to sit in the cockpit of a Boeing 737 and I realized that this was the job for me. Following my A levels, I secures a place at university and simultaneously won a partial sponsorships with Britannia at Oxford Air Training School. I decided to take the opportunity to become a pilot and do my degree at a later stage.

After 3 years Britannia made changes at Glasgow that required some pilots to take voluntary redundancy. As I was one of the most junior and had a reasonable grasp of arithmetic, it didn’t take me too long to realize I should take the redundancy package before I was pushed!

I'd always wanted to be based at Manchester and was fortunate enough to be offers a job there by Monarch on the A320 and thoroughly enjoyed my time with them. We flew to a variety of destination including the Greek islands where we flew challenging approaches with very few navigation aids, often through the middle of the night. I finished my degree in Business and Finance at Manchester three years later and shortly afterwards was offered a job on the Boeing 747 with British Airways which had always been a childhood dream.
One of the most challenging parts of long haul flying is being able to sleep at different times of the day or night. Fortunately 747s have bunk beds, which enable pilots to get some much-needed rest. At British Airways we’re lucky to have a large and varied fleet of aeroplane and are able to bid to fly different types every 5 years. I bid to become a Captain at Gatwick on the Boeing 737 fleet following my time on the 747. I’ve been a captain here for over 5 years now and it’s, without doubt, the best flying I’ve ever done. We sometimes have to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning or get home after midnight, but the variety of flying makes up for that. It’s a very dynamic working environment and we’re fortunate to be surrounded by a team of very motivated and interesting people.

British airways offer many additional activities and management opportunities to pilots who like to do more than ‘just flying’. I recently became a training Captain on the 737 and am involved in recruiting new pilot and training Crew Resource Management (CRM).

The ‘job’ of a pilot has changed over the last 10 years as aircraft have become more automated and the skies busier. As well as being able to demonstrate food airmanship, pilots need to be able to take commercial decisions and thing outside the flight deck,. All in all, the job of a pilot has evolved and in m y opinion this has made it more satisfying as a result; looking back I wouldn’t have changed a thing…this is the best job in the world!

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James Basnett ::  Pilot, Boeing 737 James Basnett ::  Pilot, Boeing 737 James Basnett ::  Pilot, Boeing 737 James Basnett ::  Pilot, Boeing 737 James Basnett ::  Pilot, Boeing 737 James Basnett ::  Pilot, Boeing 737