Our undercover captain reveals what goes on in the cockpit…

How long is pilot training?

There are essentially two ways to obtain your commercial pilot’s licence – by attending an approved flying school on a full-time course, or by self-sponsor. The first way typically takes 18 months and is likely to cost in excess of £100,000. The second will depend on your cash-flow situation – when you have the money you will slowly build up your flying hours and complete all the necessary ground school and flight training. Some airlines will part- or fully sponsor you through training depending on how short they are of pilots. In this case, you would proceed via the first method. To recoup their investment you would have to accept a job with them and your pay would be reduced for a specified number of years (maybe five) to recover some of the costs.

Once you have obtained your licence you will need to take a further course
to qualify on the aircraft type you will fly. This takes about another six months. You are only allowed to fly one aircraft type at a time so you couldn’t, for instance, fly the B777 and B747. Each time you change you would need to complete another six-month course. This is so you do not get confused between one type and another, so enhances safety.

Can you let people into the flight deck these days? 

The short answer is no – only crew and authorised persons are allowed access during flight. Before 9/11, there was either no door, a flimsy door or a curtain separating the flight deck from the passenger cabin. Now we have a secure door designed to withstand extreme force, and a CCTV system.

This is a pity as children and adults alike got a real buzz from visiting the flight deck. If someone was a nervous flyer we would invite them up for take-off or landing to explain what was going on and what all the unusual noises were; this was a great comfort. However, if you would like to visit then you may do so either before or after the flight – after is best as the pilots are usually busy setting the aircraft up at the start. Just ask the crew who will ask the captain, who is usually pleased to welcome visitors.

How is it possible to fly to the wrong airport? 

Even with all the technology we have at our disposal, this still happens. It is embarrassing when you park on stand and find there is no jetty or personnel to meet you, and realise you are not where you thought. This has not happened to me, by the way. So how does it happen? It could be that you programmed the wrong airport into the computer; this should be picked up by the other pilot who checks what you have entered, or by air traffic control when you deviate from the route. It could be that the pilots have fallen asleep and overflown the destination – this has happened and the aircraft ran low on fuel, requiring a landing at an alternative airport. Modern aircraft now sound an alarm if no controls or switches are touched in a certain time, hopefully waking up the pilots!

Or it could be that two airports are close together; in some places the military airport is close to the commercial facility or there is a disused airport next to a new one. The pilot convinces themselves that everything fits. Again, the other pilot, the instruments or air traffic control should pick this up. It is a very rare occurrence but every now and again it happens.

Can aircraft reverse?

Yes, but it is not normal practice. Essentially the engines are put into reverse; this means some of the air/exhaust gas that is usually discharged out of the rear of the engine is deflected forward. This usually happens on landing to help slow the aircraft and save on brake wear. It is not used to reverse a plane as a lot of power would be needed to move a heavy aircraft. It would be dangerous for personnel nearby and could ingest objects into the engine, causing damage.

How much sex goes on between pilots and crew?

Like in most jobs, it happens. Long-haul flying probably has more than its fair share as you are away for longer periods of time. This, coupled with enjoying a cocktail at sunset, is a recipe for this to occur.

If you have a question you’d like to ask our pilot, email [email protected]