Do you want to be an airline pilot?
follow the QA conversation with one of the great pilots in the region……
What type of plane do you fly?
ANS: Cessna 172, Bell 206, Bell 205 and Bell 412 (the last 3 are Helicopters) I am currently active on Helicopter
How long have you been flying?
ANS: 5 years
How do you choose which type of plane to fly…Is this done at school or depends on the company you finally work for?
ANS: The company chooses and trains you. Others you do a short a type rating course.
What is the most important thing a pilot is thinking about while flying a plane?
ANS: Comfort and safety of the passengers
What is a flight plan and what do you consider while making one?
ANS: A flight plan gives the idea of your intentions, and you consider speed of aircraft, fuel consumption, flight levels, and alternative airports in case of emergencies
If midway a flight, you realize there is a problem with the plane, what do you do?
ANS: It depends on the problem. Sometimes it requires you to land immediately so you look for a suitable place to land, otherwise you can continue with precaution.
We ‘ordinary people’ are told that when a plane is landing, it ejects some fuel before landing? Is that true?
ANS: Not true. Just that if it gets a problem immediately after takeoff and you must land, the weight can be too much for a safe landing. You have to reduce the weight by dumping some fuel.
What has flying taught you about life?
ANS: To always be determined.
What has been your best moment in your flying career?
ANS: Being given a chance to fly alone (solo) The feeling is unexplainable.
What has been your worst or most challenging moment (If any)?
ANS: Meeting unexpected bad weather enroute.
Where does a country’s airspace start from?
ANS: From the boundaries of a country.
How far above can a plane go?
ANS: On particular American aircraft U2 can go up to 70,000ft
Sometimes I see a pilot moving away from the cockpit to go the toilet, do planes fly on their own at some point? This is very confusing for us passengers
ANS: We fly 90% of the time auto pilot, and then all passenger aircrafts have at least 2 pilots.
Do flight attendants know how to fly a plane or know any basics in case a pilot and their assistant gets a problem?
ANS: No. They don’t learn how to fly, so they don’t have flying licenses.
If a pregnant passenger goes into labor in the middle of a flight…what happens?
ANS: We declare a medical emergency and land at the nearest airport
If a flight is going across many countries…do you have to keep announcing every time you are entering every country’s airspace? How do you know the language… if say you are English speaking but go through an Arab country’s airspace? How do you talk to them?
ANS: Every airspace you enter …you must communicate with them, and follow their instructions. All air traffic controllers must know English.
How do you know how to reach the control towers of the different countries?
ANS: The previous control tower hands you over by calling them via telephone and then give you their frequency. Like ‘contact Entebbe on 128.5Mhz’. Before you enter another country like say Kenya, Entebbe control will inform them about you. So after entering you’ll start communicating with Nairobi, via the frequency allocated for Nairobi control.
I am terrified of turbulence. Can it cause a plane to break or fall out of the sky?
ANS: Turbulence is not dangerous, especially with the right pilot input. It is caused by an aircraft flying through air of different densities. Aircraft’s body is built to withstand such forces
How does it feel like to fly at night, do you ever see other planes in space?
ANS: Flight at night is when those many instruments in the cockpit are needed most, and the runway lights. We don’t see other planes, but we see the lights on those planes. That’s now when the different light colors be important. It gives you an idea of where the other plane is going. Away from you, or towards you.
How do planes follow a particular route, coz I just see space and no road to follow?
ANS: We use radio signals called Voice Over Radio (VOR), GPS, and maps. we also sometimes base on landmarks like rivers, mountains, towns etc.
We hear that there are extraterrestrials…or aliens or UFOs. Have you ever encountered anything extraterritorial during any of your flights? If so, please describe it
ANS: Never. I hear about UFOs (Unidentified Foreign Objects) but have never encountered one.
Do planes consume a lot of fuel?
ANS: For example, an aircraft like A330-200 carries 139,000 liters of fuel, and it burns about 7000 liters an hour. So full tank gives it 17 hours’ nonstop flight. So every 1 second it consumes roughly 2 liters. That’s why the operating costs of a jetliner are very high.
What is the cost of fuel?
ANS: 1 liter = 0.40 Euros. This does not include delivery of the fuel. At present there is no tax on aviation fuel in Europe. A jumbo jet (Boeing 747-400) flying from London to New York burns approximately 70,000 kilograms of fuel. Jet fuel has an approximate specific gravity of 0.85 (the measure of its density), which equates to 82,300 liters.
Therefore, the cost of the fuel required to fly from London to New York is approximately £25,500 (€32,500). A jumbo jet carrying 450 passengers, would work out at £57 (€73) per person. The prices airlines actually pay for their fuel varies substantially depending on what they’ve “hedged” it at. Hedging is where you agree a constant price for fuel for a set period of time. This helps to reduce risk and fixed costs. For example, fuel might be hedged at 200 cents per gallon for 2 years. Whilst it can be advantageous, airlines can lose out if there is a drop in price.
If there are any most important rules or principles that every pilot keeps in mind every time they are flying…what could those be?
ANS: You have to follow instructions from controllers, in addition to other rules of the air. A good pilot should be able to anticipate. See, hear, feel, and smell to see how his machine behaves. Hear if the sound it is producing is the normal one you always hear. Feel your aircraft and make necessary changes.
Smell. There might be some components burning and you know fire in flight is the worst.
What makes an aircraft to fly? How does a huge machine really get up there?
ANS: An aircraft wing is made in such a way that the upper part is more curved than the lower. Therefore when air is separated at the leading edge of the wing, the air passing up goes faster than the air passing the lower part of the wing. This causes a pressure difference (Higher pressure down and lower pressure up) – and that’s lift. I have tried so much not to use laws of physics, so that everyone can understand. Otherwise we exploit Bernoulli’s principle to make lift on the wings (as explained above).
The engines only provide forward force, called thrust but the wings produce lift.
That’s why aeroplanes first gain speed on the ground (take off) to allow air pass through the wings to lift off.
During landing, you don’t want to lose that air reaction until you touch the ground, that’s why we land at high speeds.
Q: What is the one thing you wish passengers knew about planes and flying?
ANS: Flying is safer than people think. From aircraft manufacture to crew training, safety is taken very seriously.
Q: If your fuel is about to run out while in air, and the one available can’t take you to the closest airport, what will you do?
ANS: As a pilot you should not take chances or make mistakes in planning for fuel. If it happens due to a leakage or pilot error, then you have to prepare for a forced landing (which is also covered in flight training). Land in an open area. For smaller aircraft even a football pitch is enough but for bigger aircrafts…it is tricky. They need bigger space.
Q: What happens when you get total engine failure (both engines for multi engine aircrafts)?
ANS: Engine failure will not mean you are going to fall from the skies like a stone. I explained earlier that the engines only provide forward force (Thrust) so you’ll only loose the thrust, but the wings continue producing lift. To keep air passing through these wings, you have to maintain a forward motion which is achieved through making aircraft nose down (for more speed) or up (to reduce speed). This is called gliding. This procedure buys you time… and time buys you options like attempting engine restart or preparing for a forced landing. Forced landing can either be to an open field or to a near airport if you still have enough height. Therefore, it’s better to loose engine power at higher altitudes. Every pilot is exhaustively trained to handle such an emergency especially a captain. During checkout to become a captain you must demonstrate that procedure to the examiner.
Q: What is the hardest or most fragile part of flying? Take off, cruising or landing and Why?
ANS: Landing majorly because there is a lot of anticipation, and uncertainty of a safe landing. The aircraft is more vulnerable to sudden wind changes.
Q: You said takeoff uses balancing air on the lower and upper wings using speed. But you also said landing needs speed. So why do planes even land at all with the high speed when air pressure on the lower part of the wings should lift them?
ANS: As speed reduces, some lift is lost, this makes the airplane to descent. We don’t land at high speeds, but at a speed enough to sustain enough air flow through the wings to maintain lift (about 250-300km/hr. for passenger jets)
Q: Can you communicate with other planes that are within your flight area or path? If so, how do you know their contact?
ANS: Yes, we do communicate and even when another aircraft is communicating with tower, all others in that very frequency listen. We use frequencies just like the way a radio works. The only difference is that a home radio is a one way (only receives) while aircraft radio receives and transmits.
Q: Is there anything passengers can do in case they discover that their pilot is disoriented …demobilized or sick?
ANS: A passenger seated where a co-pilot sits can do something …by taking of the control of the aircraft (Dual control aircrafts have controls for the captain and for the copilot– no sharing). But chances of bringing it down safely without any training is minimal. I know of 1 incident though where the pilot died and the passenger landed successfully.
Q: Why do they ask us to switch off our phones or put them in airplane mode while taking off?
ANS: Some aircraft instruments are affected by the ground network interference.
Q: Does every plane or helicopter need permission to fly …even if I was moving just from one village to another? Do you need permission from Civil Aviation Authority?
ANS: You don’t need permission, but you need to be known in order to be safe from collision, and get other services like weather information.
Q: What happens if a plane just enters a country’s airspace without announcing/declaring its presence and destination?
ANS: The military is alerted, and they take action according to the level of threat the intruder possesses.
Q: Is there someone who checks pilots flying passenger jets to ensure they are not drunk or stressed in ways that would impair their ability to safely fly passengers?
ANS: Different companies take different approaches, but ensuring safety of the aircraft and the passengers is the responsibility of the pilot. My company does some medical check before they dispatch you. Before a company entrusts you with a billion-shilling machine, they have to be sure you are proficient. You have to be checked out by some of their captains and having a license doesn’t mean you’ll pass the test.
Q: Why do you guys use coded language? Alpha…et cetera? Seems you don’t want us to understand your stuff, right?
ANS: It is not coded language but it’s called phonetic alphabet. It helps avoid any chances of misunderstanding. For example, letter B and P, D and T sound almost the same. So to differentiate, B is Bravo, P is Papa, D is Delta and T is Tango.
Q: So… when you’re about to land …let’s say at Entebbe…as an example, what is the procedure? What do you tell control tower and what do they tell you?
ANS. After a lining yourself with the runway, you’ll tell tower you are on the final approach. The tower will determine if your flight path and runway is clear. If it’s clear you will be cleared to land. If it’s not, either they tell you to continue approach (not a clearance to land), reduce speed, make an orbit (fly around where you are as you wait) or make a missed approach (aborted landing over the runway)
Q: How many air traffic controllers are there at a single tower …because there could be more than five planes in their airspace in a minute? Let’s say at Heathrow- London.
ANS: Very busy airports can have different controllers doing different tasks. Ground controller to handle traffic already on ground, approach handles inbound traffic, radar controller handles traffic established on the radar (via transponder), while the center controller handles traffic far from the airport and over flying traffic. Smaller airports can have one controller only. 5 planes is a very small number to 1 controller. London receives landing traffic every 30 seconds.
Q: Are there some pilots without jobs?
ANS: Most people get jobs…have not yet seen one who’s jobless forever.
Q: Is there a commercial pilot license and private pilot license? What’s the difference? Which is better?
ANS: Private Pilot’s License(PPL) is the license you get after Student Pilot’s license (which allows you to train after passing medical examination and some background checks). PPL allows you to fly as a pilot in command, but not for compensation. Meaning you are not supposed to be paid. While CPL you fly for money. You get CPL after a more advanced training. To fly passenger and cargo jets, you are required to have Airline Transport Pilot’s License (ATPL).
Q: In places like London, where there is a plane landing every 30 seconds, what do you do when you are arrive and find there are many planes in the queue?
ANS. There is a landing sequence to be followed as guided by the controller. Except in times of emergency, VVIP transport where the aircraft involved is given priority.
Q: Is it true that planes prefer to fly over water than land? If so…why is this so?
ANS: Flying over water you encounter less turbulence than over land, but in case of an emergency that needs immediate landing, it is not a good area to be. While flying, I personally try to avoid water as much as possible to always prepare for uncertainties.
Q: In case of emergency, can a plane land on a normal road?
ANS: If it’s wide enough to accommodate the wingspan and there’s no traffic on the road, it can be a very safe landing.
Q: What should a passenger do while on board? What’s the worst?
ANS: Follow the instructions of the crew, and never smoke.
Q: How does the outside of a plane in the sky feel like? If I could put my hand out at 40,000ft… Is it cold freezing or?
ANS: Very cold, temperatures in negative. No enough oxygen to sustain life.
Articles by Mutebe Henry (Facebook)