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Beyond Flying Planes: What Do Pilots Do?

19 Jul, 2024

Beyond Flying Planes: What Do Pilots Do?

Being a pilot goes beyond taking off, steering planes, and enjoying coffee. It’s a demanding journey that requires extensive knowledge, perseverance, and the ability to navigate tough situations.

Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is an American aviation legend who showed the world what it truly means to be a skilled and competent captain. Sully displayed unwavering dedication during his years in the air, meticulously studying flight manuals and procedures, and usually taking part in flight simulators to better understand the process. 

Sully’s deep-rooted knowledge and exceptional skills made the difference on July 15th, 2009. Piloting US Airways Flight 1549 from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte and Seattle, Sully encountered a flock of birds which struck and disabled both engines. Being a skilled aviator, Sully maintained a calm demeanor under heavy pressure and brilliantly glided the plane for 15 minutes before making the crucial decision to land on the Hudson, saving 155 lives and giving birth to what is known today as “Miracle on the Hudson”. 

Sullenberger showcased how pilots can be lifesavers; his story is one of many. But have you ever wondered what goes on in the cockpit besides flying the plane?  While navigating flight routes carefully is an essential part of a pilot’s duty, there are deeper layers to peel. From meticulous pre-flight checks to critical decision-making in the air, pilots play a crucial role in ensuring the safety and efficiency of every flight

Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts as we discuss the different sides of being a pilot and their numerous responsibilities and routines on the ground and in the air. 

 

Phase 1: Pre-Flight Procedures

Pilots are called upon before flight take off to perform necessary tasks and checks, planning for everything that lies ahead of them from weather patterns to emergency procedures. 

Flight Planning

Flight planning is crucial for a flight’s success and pilots play a vital role in ensuring these plans are well-crafted. Pilots become weather gurus, meticulously analyzing weather conditions and patterns to avoid turbulence and ensure a smooth flight. Using sophisticated navigation tools and aeronautical charts, they set their flight course considering essential factors including airspace restrictions, fuel efficiency, and navigation aids. Just like skilled mathematicians, pilots account for every ounce of fuel to ensure they have enough for the journey with a safety buffer. Once pilots complete their flight plans, they file them with Air Traffic Control (ATC), detailing everything from planned altitude to estimated flight time. This critical information allows the ATC to track the aircraft’s movement and ensure safe separation between flights.

Pre-Flight Checks

Pilots and major airlines prioritize safety and do everything in their power to carefully assess aircraft conditions from both the outside and the inside. This responsibility goes beyond swiftly glancing around, it’s a rigorous process that ensures the plane’s readiness to take flight. With eagle-eyed vision, pilots begin by inspecting the plane exterior, looking for any damage, leaks, or loose objects. They also make sure the landing gear is functioning properly and check the levels of vital fluids such as oil and hydraulic fluid. Once satisfied with the exterior, pilots move inside the cockpit for a comprehensive inspection of the aircraft’s systems and instruments. This entails examining crucial flight instruments like the altimeter, airspeed indicator, and compass for accuracy. After ticking all the boxes on a standardized checklist that spares no detail, pilots can confidently take to the skies knowing they’ve done everything they could to provide flight safety for passengers and flight crew. 

 

Phase 2: In-Flight Procedures

As we’ve previously established, pilots do a lot more in the cockpit than just simply steering the plane. Their time in the air encompasses a wide range of mid – flight tasks; crucial to achieving flight success

Navigation

Navigating flight routes isn’t as easy as following an imaginary yellow line. Pilots blend modern technology with honed skills to guide the aircraft and achieve a safe and efficient flight. They rely on the flight plans they crafted during pre-flight to guide them through planned routes, waypoints (specific points along the journey), and altitudes. Pilots utilize GPS and other navigation aids for precise positioning and receive real-time satellite location data. Air Traffic Controllers play a supporting role in providing pilots with ground instructions, altitude clearances, and weather updates. Finally, pilots become aviation hawks above the clouds, maintaining situational awareness and full alertness to unstable weather conditions and potential hazards. Combining these techniques allows pilots to navigate the skies with pinpoint accuracy. 

Aircraft Operation

Pilots become one with the aircraft as they maneuver the yoke and pedals, precisely navigating takeoffs, climbs, and landings. They also closely monitor systems including engine gauges, warning lights, and other system indicators to spot and remedy any arising issue. Just like a parent concerned with their child’s well-being, pilots utilize their extensive weather expertise to avoid turbulence, thunderstorms, and other hazardous conditions by making informed decisions. Stemming from the necessity of fuel optimization, pilots make adjustments like changing altitude or airspeed to optimize fuel usage and ensure they have enough reserves for unforeseen circumstances. Finally, they remain calm under pressure, making split-second decisions to safeguard everyone on board.

Crew Management 

This is when pilots rise to the occasion and assume the role of an administrative manager. They lead a team of skilled individuals by effectively communicating instructions, expectations, and critical information. This enforces unity among co-pilots and cabin crew members, resulting in a safe, efficient flight. Pilots are also leaders above the clouds who show trust and faith in their team members. They delegate different tasks to different crew members based on their unique expertise. Pilots follow up by supervising these tasks to ensure a smooth flow of on-board operations. Cohesion and harmony are key to successful collaborations between captains, co-pilots, and flight attendants. Thus, pilots foster a positive work environment based on mutual respect, clear communication, and effective teamwork. Through effective crew management and communication skills, pilots orchestrate a symphony of competent individuals for a smooth and successful flight.

 

Phase 3: Post-Flight Procedures

Remember when we mentioned that being a pilot is a demanding job? Their journey through each flight doesn’t end by simply landing the airplane. There are a couple of tasks left to complete a successful flight. 

Debriefing & Record Keeping

Through a collaborative debriefing session, pilots share their experiences from the flight, analyzing performance and identifying areas for improvement. Open communication is key. Fostering a culture of continuous learning. Simultaneously, pilots meticulously document every flight in an official logbook, creating a detailed record for analysis. This data, along with pilot insights from the debriefing, becomes a valuable source for identifying trends, tracking performance, and ensuring regulatory compliance. This synergy between debriefing and record-keeping creates a continuous learning cycle, utilizing flight data and lessons learned to improve pilot training, flight procedures, and ultimately, overall operational safety in the aviation industry.