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A day in the life: short-haul pilot part 2

by Paul Naylor BALPA Vice Chairman

In this series we are following a day in the life of short-haul Captain, Paul Naylor. We catch up with him shortly after the aircraft has landed at the first destination of the day.

Part 1 of this blog series can be found here

  • DAY 1: Earlies
  • Report time 0600. Finish 1630 local

0755 Taxi to Stand at MAN

We arrive at our stand a little early and find it occupied. We take the opportunity to shut down our second engine thus saving a little fuel. This also gives us an opportunity to look at fuel requirements for the next sector. Normally, we do this in the cruise but there isn’t always the chance on short sectors. We agree that for the next one there’s no reason to take any extra fuel and settle on the PLOG figure (PLOG is a term of endearment for our flight plan paperwork)

0810: Arrive on Stand

We finally arrive on stand on schedule having squandered our time advantage waiting for it. There are several passengers that require assistance to deplane. We have to wait for an ambilift- (a truck that can lift wheelchair passengers easily in and out of the aircraft). There isn’t one around and the Despatcher informs us it’ll be 10 minutes before it gets here. This is a fairly regular occurrence. Unfortunately, on a 30-minute turnaround there is little margin for error timewise and this could mean a delay. All arriving passengers must have disembarked and the cabin crew should carry out a standard security search of the cabin during every turnaround before passengers for the next flight can begin.


0825: Passengers board

We eventually say farewell to our assistance passengers before welcoming our next audience. This sector is a little lighter than the last one which was full. Only 120 on this one. It’s my turn to fly so I set the aircraft up for the standard departure. Manchester is busier than home so they use Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs). These are a published set of instructions that all aircraft are to comply with when departing in a given direction. They comprise of tracks to fly and altitudes to adhere to at certain points.

Upon receiving our ATC clearance, I program this into the flight management computer (affectionately known as ‘the box’) and brief according to it.

0843: Start up clearance

Because of the lighter passenger figure, we find ourselves only slightly behind the schedule… until we ask for a start-up clearance. It then becomes apparent we are about sixth in line to start-up. Oh well, that’s another 10 minutes to wait. Cup of tea number two is waiting patiently in its holder – seems like a good time to indulge!

Sector two passes with a little more tedium than the last. It takes forever to escape the clutches of MAN, due to the volume of traffic trying to get moving at the same time. There is also an active runway to cross and eight aircraft in front of us. We eventually cruise at 24,000ft which is as high as ATC are willing to offer on the return leg. This is a level usually enjoyed by our turboprop colleagues. Today we get to share it. Ideally, I would complete an abbreviated brief for our arrival back at home base but my colleague is new so I elect instead for the full version.

0930: Back at base

Before long we’re back where we started three hours and 20 minutes ago. We are halfway done in terms of sectors but not in terms of time. The next two sectors are both in the region of two hours 30 minutes each. Sector three is always the killer on a four sector early. At some point your body will remind you of exactly how long you’ve been awake for!

On this particular shift, it also happens to be the most challenging sector. Nice has a fairly demanding circling approach onto its south westerly runway. Fortunately, it isn’t in use that often and it looks as though we can plan on the more relaxed north easterly version today. Of course, we need to get on our way first. That is hampered by the almost inevitable slot delay. This time it’s 45 minutes and just long enough to ensure the eventual drive home is into rush hour traffic. These delays are virtually a daily occurrence in summer as the volume of air traffic exceeds ATC’s capability to handle it.

0955: Complete the turnaround

We complete the turnaround in fairly prompt fashion and tell ATC we’re set to go well before the slot time. They acknowledge the hint but it does little to improve our plight. Eventually we get pushed onto a remote stand to wait out the delay. This is a common practice these days to free up the stands.

1145: The cruise

The cruising level for this leg is 37,000ft. The view from up here never gets tiresome and we are reminded of that fact by the Cabin Manager when she brings in the breakfasts (there is little opportunity to eat on the shorter sectors). The tranquillity is disturbed by an alert on our monitoring systems. Fortunately, it’s one of the more common ones – regarding communication systems. That’s one of the few that require no action.

1230: Feeling tired

About 1 hour 45 minutes into the trip comes that dreaded sector-three-early-feeling where the body craves a little rest but there’s none forthcoming. I have a rummage around what’s left of the breakfast box that might boost the energy levels. Failing that, caffeine will suffice.

As expected our approach is onto the north easterly runway. The weather is great and this particular arrival is effectively a visual approach with great views the whole way in from Cannes, out to sea and back in around the bay. Both of Nice’s runways are on the waterfront.

1310: Landing

Landing on runway 04L (L for left) crosses the path of several small sailing craft and a few water-skiers. As we vacate the runway we pass a very long line of very expensive corporate jets reflecting the towns tendency to attract the rich and famous. It’s 28 degrees outside – not a day for turning the air conditioning off!

1325: The last leg beckons

Another 150 people queue patiently to board. We have an airbridge this time – nice if the weather is bad but a lot slower than using two sets of steps to board. This one is mainly glass and I wonder where some of our customers think they are going. It’s not shorts and t-shirt weather where we’re heading! Probably best not to remind them of that fact just yet!

The cabin locker space fills quickly in this one. I can hear a difference of opinion taking place in the forward galley. A customer is not happy to have their bag placed in the hold. Unfortunately, there is little else that can be done and they reluctantly surrender their trolley-bag. This is probably the most common argument on board these days. But, if the bag fell on to them for some reason, it could cause an injury they might not forget in a hurry!


1340: Final departure of the day

When we set off again we’ve lost another five minutes. This time it’s due to those extra bags going in the hold. Not to worry we’re heading home.

Once again there’s some great views as we climb to a cruising level of 38,000ft, passing Mont Blanc on the way. We cross over Lyon, Paris and London before getting a more direct routing towards home. By the time we approach the top of descent we’re both a little jaded.

The First Officer has elected to make full use of the automation for this approach. Can’t say I blame him. These shifts can be a real shock to the system for the new guys. Nevertheless, he briefs and flies the approach well. The wind has changed around since this morning so we’re doing an RNAV approach onto the easterly runway.

Landing on this particular runway is a bit more of a challenge as the surface slopes downwards just at the point where you expect the wheels to touch down. If you can make this one smooth you can work with anything!

1600: We arrive with a bit of a bump – not a bad effort at all for this runway. We pick up another delay taxing in as ATC have cleared an aircraft to push back in front of us. This airport really needs parallel taxiways. We arrive on stand 30 minutes late overall. We can leave the aircraft set-up as the next crew are waiting for us. Normally if there’s no crew expected we should shut the aircraft down completely. After a quick conversation with our late shift colleagues we’re off to the crew-room via passport control. Not much has changed since we were last here 11 hours ago. Even the next day’s roster is intact.

1630: Off duty (landing time +30) I’ve now got around 12 hours free before my next adventure reporting an hour earlier than today. Luckily tomorrow’s finishes a bit earlier too.

1640: Time to join the evening rush-hour traffic. There are no plans for this evening nor for the next four days other than work, eat, sleep, repeat! Such is the nature of the industry these days.