There are many essential roles in the world of aviation, but perhaps the most high-profile is that of the pilot. It’s a position of great responsibility, and so the training is all-important. Here we speak with Artur Mukhitdinov, a captain at Aeroflot.
What’s does training to become a pilot at Aeroflot involve?
Before I got to Aeroflot I spent five years at the Ulyanovsk Civil Aviation Institute, which is one of the top aviation schools in Russia. I went when I was 18 and spent five years there in total. During that time I flew on several aircraft including the Yakovlev Yak-18T – a small single-engine turbo prop school plane, which I practised on for about 200 hours – and the Diamond DA42, which is a twin-engine turbo prop plane. They are happy memories since I was a young man and we were starting all communication with the Air Traffic Control in English, and had the experience to fly to an international airport with our instructor.
After I had graduated I applied for a job with Aeroflot in 2012 and did a year in ground school, and then had further flight training with an instructor. I became fully qualified in 2013 as a first officer, and then, after 3,500 hours of flying, I got the opportunity to upgrade to captain, which involves passing many more exams at ground school in the flight simulator and appearing in front of a Qualification Commission. I passed all of that and it took me five months, but it is more usual for it to take longer, perhaps a year. My total flight time now is around 5,500 recorded hours so I am an experienced pilot.
How many are graduating from the Aeroflot school?
I’m not sure, but I know it is increasing each year, both from the university and for Aeroflot as we expand. For the university, when I graduated it was about 100 per year, because some people drop out during the five years, but I heard from younger colleagues now that it is more like 200 per year.
Are all Aeroflot pilots able to speak English?
Yes, of course. The level of English in Russia for young people is good, but during university at Ulyanovsk I took extra classes in technical English, because aviation English is different as it includes technical abbreviations. We all need to understand each other in the sky. Everyone is flying with different accents so we are assessed to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards. As a result of those lessons I have Level 4 English, which is what you need to fly internationally, and I am studying towards Level 5. You need to have your level confirmed every three years to continue to fly international routes.
How do people perceive being a pilot?
It depends. The normal citizen doesn’t understand all the specifics of our job so they usually ask the same question they ask pilots around the world, “Is it true the autopilot flies the plane, not you?”, or “How do you become a pilot?” or “Are you ever afraid?” Or maybe aspects of how the plane actually works, how it takes off and flies when it is made of metal and is heavy. For professional people there’s a respect that comes to you from being a pilot, and also from working for Aeroflot, which I believe is one of the best airlines in the world, if not the best.
Why is it the best?
Many reasons. The training, which I have just explained, and also we have one of the world’s youngest fleets, not just in Europe but all over the world with an average age of less than four years. And because of the training we have had, when I am speaking with colleagues from other airlines I feel that we are at a different level of education, professional experience and skills.
Which are the most difficult airports to fly into?
Well, it depends on the weather. Tivat airport in Montenegro is OK in good weather, but in poor weather it’s interesting since it is surrounded by high mountains and there’s sometimes a strong tailwind. I should say that all the airports are divided into categories, with A being normal and C being more challenging. So to be able to fly to that airport you have to pass ground school with an instructor or a simulator to move up through the categories. You can’t just say, “I’ve flown 5,000 hours so I can go land there.” Dual redundancy is what it is called. During a year I might fly into 50 airports, flying the Airbus A320 and A321 family, and there’s close to 100 that the Airbus A320 family fly to with Aeroflot. These serve routes ranging from less than an hour to almost five hours. Some we fly there and back (a turnaround), and others we stay at. I fly regularly to London, Istanbul and St Petersburg, from East to West.