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A Pilot’s Perspective: Approach and Landing

ApproachThis is a Hipmunk guest post from Scott Simko, a U.S. Commercial Airline pilot of over 15 years. His views and opinions are his and his alone and do not represent the airline of his employment or Hipmunk.

As we are vectored to the approach, we are looking out for other aircraft. This will seem pretty obvious, but is worth bringing up: most planes (big and small) are headed either to an airport or away from one. The airspace can get quite busy.

Luckily, the Traffic Collission Avoidance System (TCAS) was implemented in the mid 90s. Basically, it shows where other aircraft are in relation to you. See the image below. The diamonds, squares, and circles are all aircraft either above or below your plane. An algorithm dictates the color and shape, which signifies its importance.

Tcas

Once lined up for landing, we set up for an instrument approach — even if it’s a beautiful day. Why? We all make mistakes and we want to guard against any possibility of error. And let’s face it, mistakes in aviation usually end badly. Needless to say, we are very busy during this phase of the flight.

Once we touch down, we taxi to the gate. The safest part of your journey is over and the most dangerous is just about to begin. Drive home safely!

If you have any questions about any part of your flying experience please feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer them.

The image above is from Tony George’s Photostream.  

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A Pilot’s Perspective: Descent

Airplane_descent

This is a Hipmunk guest post from Scott Simko, a U.S. Commercial Airline pilot of over 15 years. His views and opinions are his and his alone and do not represent the airline of his employment or Hipmunk.

ATC (air traffic control) starts stepping us down about 90 miles out and filters us into the line of traffic headed for the airport.  Things are starting to get busy again.  ATC speeds us up or slows us down to fit into the line of traffic while also assigning altitude crossing restrictions.  This way, air-traffic safely crosses over or underneath in a perfectly orchestrated dance to the airport.  

In my opinion, the best controllers in the country are in Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD).  These guys move some traffic.  Why are they better?  I’m not sure, but it probably comes down to the culture; I wish all controllers had to spend a day in ORD.

Once passing 10,000 ft., we are back in sterile cockpit and by now we have chimed the flight attendants to start preparing for landing. It’s at this point that they are probably bugging you to turn off your computer.

That brings up a commonly asked question: “Why do you have turn off your electrical equipment?”

Now, it’s an FAA regulation that we ask you to do this. But here’s the thinking behind it:

  • The closer you are to the ground, the more likely you are to encounter turbulence. I’m sure neither of us wants you to be hit by your neighbor’s brick of a laptop.
  • If something did occur during landing, we want you alert — not rocking out to Justin Beiber. OK, maybe not Beiber, but how about Jay-Z? Either way, we need your attention.
  • I’m not an electrical engineer and I know the FAA is very conservative, but we have antennae located all over the aircraft and want zero chance of interference. Next time you are waiting at your gate, check out a plane. Most of the bumps you see are antennae; they are located on the front, middle, tail, top, and bottom of the aircraft.

Looks like we are coming in for a landing!

    The image above is from Airplane.  I hope no one gets mad at me for using it.

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    A Pilot’s Perspective: Cruise

    Airplane_cruise

    This is a Hipmunk guest post from Scott Simko, a U.S. Commercial Airline pilot of over 15 years. His views and opinions are his and his alone and do not represent the airline of his employment or Hipmunk.

    Once we begin cruising, we usually turn off the fasten seatbelt light, which allows everyone to stretch their legs. In the cockpit, the non-flying pilot communicates with ATC (Air Traffic Control) while the flying pilot manipulates the autopilot. We both keep an eye on navigation and the aircraft systems.

    Of all the phases of flight (takeoff, cruise, descent, approach and landing) this is where we are least taxed with duties. Oddly enough, our workload is exactly the opposite of the flight attendants’ workload.

    We are often asked if we are allowed to read. Frankly, it depends on the airline. Some allow you to read as long as it doesn’t block the view of the instruments. Others either strictly forbid it or limit it to company material only.

    More often than not, we are just shooting the breeze. By the end of the trip, you get to know the other pilot very well.

    Approximately twenty minutes before landing, we start planning. The non-flying pilot gathers airport weather data by using the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS). Think of it as a text messaging system, only for weather updates.

    We need to know if it will be a visual approach or if we have to shoot an instrument approach to the airport because of poor visibility. We are also taking aircraft performance into consideration — details like what flap setting we will be using, etc.

    Once we have all the data, we decide the best course of action. The flying pilot briefs the non-flying pilot on the approach, landing, and go-around procedures so there’s no confusion. These aren’t things you want to be doing last minute.

    The image above is from Airplane.  I hope no one gets mad at me for using it.

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