A working day above the clouds
The job of a pilot is thrilling and exciting. In what other office could you possibly experience a sunrise over the Alps or the aurora borealis over Greenland? But the job is also very exhausting; a working day starts at 3.00 am. But what does the daily routine of an Austrian pilot actually look like?
We interviewed Ewald Roithner for you. Ewald is 40 years old and has been a captain for ten years. He describes his working day for a flight on a Fokker 100.
Before we start
I meet the co-pilot about one hour before departure. Together, we check the flight documents, the weather conditions and any information about the flight. After we have gone through everything, we decide how much kerosene, which is the fuel used to refuel the aircraft, is needed for this flight. Then we meet the cabin crew. During a briefing, as the exchange of information is called, the pilots learn whether there are any passengers with special requirements. We discuss how long the flight will last, whether it could be turbulent and there are also regular discussions about procedures that are important for emergencies.
About 40 minutes before takeoff, we enter the cockpit. Our main focus now is on the many systems in the aircraft. The co-pilot checks the computers in the cockpit according to a checklist and I walk around the aircraft and check the technical condition. This includes, for example, the tire pressure on our landing gear wheels, the wings, the landing flaps and the engine. If everything is in order and the co-pilot and the flight attendants have finished their preparations, the passengers may board.
As soon as everyone is on board, the flight attendant closes the aircraft door and the co-pilot asks the tower (control tower at the airport) if we can start the engines. As soon as we get this clearance, we’re ready to go. With the engines running, we roll to the runway. Which one that is depends on the wind. Aircraft usually take off against the wind. Only when everyone on board is strapped in and the flight attendants have made sure that everything is safely stowed away, can we take off.
Both pilots must be able to fly the aircraft. Normally, we alternate: the captain takes off and lands once and the co-pilot takes over on the next flight. It is important that the two work together in the cockpit and support each other. For example, when the co-pilot flies, the captain takes care of the radio traffic and also reads the checklists to the co-pilot so that nothing is forgotten.
As soon as the aircraft is in the air, the landing gear is retracted and the autopilot is then switched on a little later. The autopilot controls the aircraft and takes it on the route programmed in advance by the pilots. It also takes care of the speed and height and thus takes some of the burden away from the crew in the cockpit. During the flight, the fuel consumption, the weather and the work of the autopilot must be checked constantly to make sure that there are no surprises. If time permits, one of the pilots reports to the passengers and tells them something about the flight and the weather at the destination.
There are sometimes passengers who are afraid of flying and so are reassured when they hear the pilot’s voice.
Before landing, the weather is checked again and the approach is discussed. Our aircraft can land even in very bad weather. An instrument landing system helps us to initiate the approach, even if we can’t yet see the runway. If visibility is so low that we can only see the runway shortly before touchdown, the aircraft can land on its own. But then the weather would be so bad that even the cars on the roads would have to travel very slowly. Normally, however, the pilots land themselves. On the one hand, they of course need to practice, but it’s also fun to do.