A TYPICAL DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN AIRLINE PILOT
The sky was so blue, and the sun so bright, that an eternal summer seemed to reign over this prospect. I have to say, this job truly brings in great personal satisfaction at the end of the day! Afterall, safely transporting thousands of people and connecting businesses, and cargo to where it needs to go is indeed satisfying. With over 6 years of flying commercially across various airlines which include low-cost, leisure, and flag carriers, I will share with you what a typical day in the life of an Airline Pilot looks like!
For a typical short-haul pilot, your day will mostly include multiple sectors in one day. For example, you may start with Mumbai – Delhi and back, followed by Mumbai – Ahmedabad and back, or even end with Mumbai – Delhi – Bangalore! It just depends on the pattern you are told to operate. Most often as a short-haul pilot you will spend most of your nights home and sometimes away on a layover. Your preparation for the flight starts hours before you even turn up in your uniform at work. You will often get your flight plan, weather, NOTAMS (warnings), and operational information in advance.
You can utilize the preparation time to build a mental model of what are the challenges you are going to face as every day is different for a Pilot. Once you rock up at the crew room you will often end up meeting your colleague (Captain) and other crew members (typically 4 on a B737/A320 type). You and the Captain will analyze the flight plans, discuss your plan of flying out, how any warnings will affect you, and study the weather. After reviewing these items you will have to make a fuel decision – (yes if you run out of gas or get close to running out, it’s tea and biscuits with Chief Pilot to explain how you ended up in that situation!).
Once the fuel decision is made you will have to coordinate with airport handling to place a fuel order and finally decide who’s the button pressor (Pilot Monitoring) and the handling Pilot (Pilot Flying) for the route. You will often each in turn will fly the plane there or back. It is a very good work ethic as a Pilot to meet and greet your crew members, it gives you an opportunity to see their faces because often you are in the front in a fast pace short-haul operation you may not get to see the crew again until landing! You will with your colleague then have to brief them on weather, timings and any other important information, and also, understand their challenges.
Most likely after this, you will go through the wonderful world of airport security and hop on to the other side where your airplane will be waiting for you. The dispatcher will be your main point of contact who will keep you updated on progress around the aircraft including tasks such as fueling, loading, servicing, etc. Pilot Flying will set up the aircraft and Pilot Monitoring will complete the walk-around, sign the fuel receipt and assist with any other task required by Pilot Flying. The captain most likely will accept the airplane by signing the technical logbook after checking all the sections. Most likely, the weight and balance will be presented either through the dispatcher or directly from airplane ACARS (Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System), allowing you to work out your take-off speeds before the briefing.
Once these tasks are complete you will speak to delivery/ground to get your clearance for departure and then complete a departure brief together as a team. It involves talking about threats, challenges, weather, engine failure, and other issues and how you will tackle them. The airplane most likely will be fueled and be ready down there by now so then you can complete the before-start checklist. See as Pilots, we love checklists; every phase, start, after the start, taxi, before take-off, after take-off, cruise, etc. has checklists as a safety net to ensure all items are covered. And just like that, you are ready to fly!
After getting your pushback clearance you will
liaise with the ground to get the airplane out on
Start the engines, complete your checks, review your departure brief, and rock up on the runway. Taxi is incredibly busy, airports are often complex and full of moving objects which require you to concentrate and adjust to changing plans. Now that you are ready to take off…
It gets busier! One Pilot is now focusing on maintaining the centerline whilst the other one is monitoring the instruments and is ready to speak up if things go wrong (they might, and very fast). Once safely airborne, you ensure you climb safely away from the ground, clean up the aircraft, ensure that you’re on the departure route, and safely make your way up. During this phase, there are multiple frequency changes, energy management, and clearances to comply too. Often above 10,000ft, you will turn off the seat belt signs so cabin crew can carry on with their service whilst you focus on reaching cruise altitude.
Once in cruise, you will have to review each system periodically, complete fuel calculations, and deal with any weather/ATC requests throughout the flight. This phase also gives you a moment to grab a bite and chat with your colleague as you progress through your flight. It is also a good idea to make a PA to passengers and inform them of any updates/interesting points on the route and any other relevant information which you feel will benefit them. It is also important to regularly check in with the cabin crew to ensure they are ok. This phase will also require constant vigilance where you will have to scan airports en route, obtain weather information, and think of “what if” scenarios. If you are that keen you can also practice simulated emergencies and talk through them with your colleague in case things get a bit interesting.
Closer to the top of descent it is a good time to obtain weather reports for destination and alternates and review warnings and notifications for both. Pilot Flying will often set up the airplane for arrival by adding decision altitudes, arrival routings, and weather into the flight computer. You will also have to work out your landing distance and margins as well as your approach speeds. Once Pilot Monitoring reviews what’s in, it’s time to do an arrival brief which will focus on our strategies of how you are going to fly the approach, how you will manage the energy, what are the threats, and what you have in place to mitigate. It will also include fuel review, actions at decision altitude, go-around strategy, and parking once on the ground. It will be a perfect opportunity to share your mental model with your colleague so he or she is in the loop on what you will do.
Once you commence your descent, you will be dealing with multiple frequency changes, clearances, and energy management to establish. At 10,000ft belts go in and it is all about getting yourself set up for the approach to be stable at 1000ft to prepare for landing. Once you reach your decision altitude you will either go around or continue to land at your destination. After landing you will taxi to your stand, park the airplane and finish post-flight paperwork… before starting all over again for the next adventure!
–Dipeet Mehta (A320 & Boeing Airline Pilot)