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).
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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.