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Ask a pilot: part two

by Steve Landells Flight Safety Specialist

In part 2 of our ‘Ask a pilot’ blog we once again scoured the internet for some more of the most common questions asked of pilots and put them to BALPA’s own Flight Safety Specialist and former airline pilot, Steve Landells, to get some answers.

How much does a pilot earn?
This is a tricky question because it can vary so much. It can depend on experience, seniority level and the airline. In recent years, we’ve also seen the introduction of contract – or ‘zero hours’ – pilots and ‘pay to fly’ (where pilots once trained lose a chunk of salary back to the airline in order to gain their type-rating) initiatives which have been eroding the take-home salary of new pilots in particular. It is not unheard of for a new pilot to only be earning around £23,000, much less when accounting for their training debts. However, a senior Captain with many years of experience in some airlines might expect to earn around £150,000. However, these sorts of salaries are definitely becoming the exception rather than the rule.

What has changed about flying since 9/11?
Passengers used to be allowed to come to the cockpit during flight and younger children particularly would get a thrill from speaking to the pilots. Visiting the cockpit before or during flight also used to be a very valuable experience for some of those that find flying a scary experience but the cockpit is now strictly out of bounds while in the air except for authorised people. If someone really wants to see the cockpit then the pilots will, if there is enough time, usually be happy to allow a visit and answer any questions after landing. The other significant impact has been on the security we all have to go through before being allowed to board the plane. Whilst these security checks can be time consuming, and sometimes quite intrusive, they are necessary and we just have to accept them as part of keeping everyone safe.

When flying as a passenger, have you ever experienced a flight that worried you? 
When on holiday in India a few years ago with my wife we took an internal flight. I noticed that one of the engines didn’t start on the first attempt, which is not that unusual, but when I mentioned it to my wife it caused her a great deal of concern and I now know not to pass comment when flying anymore! What this does show is that pilots treat anything slightly out of the ordinary as a potential problem, and whilst the vast majority of issues will never be of any significant concern, nothing is ignored. I have never experienced a significant problem when flying as a passenger and having an understanding of things like weather and turbulence means that they do not give me any cause for concern. Having said that many years ago I was lucky enough to get on one of the last Concorde flights to New York as a passenger. When we came into land, the aircraft ahead of us stayed on the runway too long so our pilots had to abort the landing. The noise from those four big engines as the pilots applied go-around power was phenomenal and this unexpected barrage of noise obviously came, not surprisingly, as a huge shock to a lot of people, quite a number of whom started screaming, which was disconcerting to say the least! When we landed safely ten minutes later there were a lot of relieved people.

What happens if you lose an engine?
Engines are so reliable nowadays that failures are rare but pilots are trained to fly their aircraft following the loss of a powerplant under all circumstances. The aircraft also have to be designed to fly for some considerable time with an engine out so whilst losing an engine is an emergency it is very unlikely to cause a crash. How a pilot handles an engine failure really depends on what has happened. If the engine has simply run down (due to a fuel system failure for example) and there is no apparent damage then the pilots may elect to try and relight it. If however there is damage (following a bird or drone strike for example) then the pilots will stop the fuel to the engine to reduce the chances of a fire and then decide what the best course of action is. If there is a catastrophic failure then they will look to land as soon as possible. The aircraft does handle differently when an engine has failed, and the pilots do have to adopt different procedures, but landing in this condition is practiced in every simulator session and pilots are well trained to handle it.

Our ‘Ask a pilot’ blog is open to further questions you might want answered. Let us know and we will do our very best to get Steve, a pilot for 27 years, to provide an answer.