We imagine pilots’ work as something romantic: the sky, the plane, and beautiful girls. It’s actually true and in addition, this job is well-paid. But there are some more tiny details — it’s a huge responsibility for hundreds of people’s lives, constant stress, and the lack of normal sleeping regime.
We at Bright Side learned as much as we could about the secrets of this “air” profession and feel eager to share them with you.
There is a long way from making the decision to become a pilot until you’re actually flying airplanes. Any pilot must have a commercial pilot certificate. For that, they first enroll in a pilot school. Getting a college degree is not mandatory, but it is preferable. Then they have many pieces of extensive training where they train their skills on flight simulators and real planes. The total number of flying hours has to be at least 250. After the intern passes the written exam, the soon-to-be pilot has a check-ride where under the supervision of the examiner, they plan a flight and perform it making various maneuvers upon the examiner’s request. In order to get the right to fly multi-engine aircraft and become a captain, the commercial pilot needs to obtain an airline transport pilot certificate (we will tell you more about that further down in the article).
Sometimes the crew remains the same for months or even years, other times it changes every flight. It all depends on the individual airline’s regulations. All crews use a cross-check system where one member checks the tasks of another. In the cabin, flight attendants check one another’s stations to make sure the doors are disarmed or armed. In the cockpit, the captain and the first officer verify each other’s tasks as well.
The pilots’ menu is somewhat similar to the menu of the business-class passengers. The captain and the first officer always eat different food: in case one gets poisoned or sick, the second one will be able to replace them.
The main rule of aviation safety is redundancy, that’s why there are always 2 pilots. The responsibilities between pilots are shared equally, but it’s the captain who makes all the command decisions. Before the flight, pilots discuss which functions each of them is going to perform, who will do the piloting, and who will monitor. For example, the captain does the take-off, navigates autopilot, and lands, while the first officer watches the work of the captain and conducts radio communication with the dispatcher.
All pilots undergo self-defense training, learn emergency features that may arise during the flight, and then demonstrate how they are able to cope with an emergency situation. This training happens once a quarter. Once a year they have a full medical check-up (it’s twice a year for those who are older than 40) and sometimes they even take tests for psychological compatibility with the crew.
Preparations start at least 2 hours prior to the flight. Pilots enter the office through a separate entrance and undergo a full security check. They also get a medical examination before every flight. Each of them is asked about their health, their blood pressure and pulse are checked, and sometimes they might even give their blood for testing. If a member of the crew is not feeling well, a reserve pilot who is “on-call” will replace them on that flight.
Before the flight, the captain checks all the internal and external systems of the aircraft. The First Officer personally checks the engines and the entire plane for any damages, defects, and ice formations. When the passengers are boarding, the cockpit crew makes all the final checks, they finalize the route, recheck the weather, and other things.
There is no ignition key in planes like in cars — it starts with a button. There are actually a lot of buttons on the dashboard and there are some very unusual ones like an outdoor light switch or a weather locator remote control. All buttons have arrows and signs that help the pilot to understand what it’s for and the pilot will understand the meaning of each even if they don’t have years of experience.
Despite common opinion, both pilots never sleep at the same time in the cockpit and put the plane on autopilot. Autopilot is on for most of the flight, but pilots communicate with dispatchers, control the tools, study the documents, register the necessary parameters, and navigate the aircraft themselves if necessary. At the same time, pilots are allowed to sleep during flight with the condition that one of them is always awake. Some long-haul flights have 3-4 pilots so that they can replace each other and have a full rest. On these flights, the same pilots are responsible for take-off and landing, while the extra pilots are responsible for other segments of the flight. The latter pilots are often called the “Heavy” crew.
Most people get destabilized by stress. Pilots, in their turn, have trained their reaction to stress and handle it better: they start acting more effectively by prioritizing their tasks and solving them. They are taught to fly effectively in stressful conditions. The maximum of extreme situations are worked over during training on the flight simulator. However, the decision on how to act in each case is made by the crew captain.
Sliding windows are only present in the cockpit, and they’re only allowed to be opened them only on a hot day in the airport. Moreover, pilots have special orange curtains that are drawn to protect them from the shining sun.
Passengers are asked to put their mobile phones in flight mode not because their signal interferes with navigation instruments, but because in an emergency situation everyone will be looking at their phones when they really need to act fast — and using the mobile phone will be a distracting factor.
Pilots perceive fictional movies about aviation with humor. All those moments that show ordinary people landing a plane or patching up holes in the plane while it’s flying are impossible in reality. But they say that these movies would be boring if a real pilot consulted on the filming process.
The crew has some travel benefits. Every airline has its bonuses for its employees. For example, they can fly to any place where the airline flies for 10% of the ticket’s cost.
Pilots themselves say that their profession is “dying” and that they will be replaced with technology after a couple of decades. The forecast confirms these thoughts: by the year 2036 the aviation industry will face a record lack of pilots — the world will need more than 637,000 specialists and the only way to solve it is through automatization.