Posts Tagged ‘Pilot’

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Ask A Pilot – Airports, Take-offs and Landings

When we asked our Facebook fans, ’What would you love to ask a pilot?’, one of the most common themes focussed on the favourite airports of pilots, as well as how they operate for take-offs and landings.  Well, you asked the questions, and here are the answers from one of our pilots!




Toby A - Where is your favourite place to land?

I find each airport has its appealing aspects and interesting challenges, and I couldn’t narrow it down to just one. A couple of my favourites are Sydney because of the scenery and landmarks like the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, Adelaide over the rolling hills and looking over the ocean on approach, and my home town of Melbourne. It’s great to recognise all the major roads, and seeing the MCG lit up at night is a pretty special view.

Melissa S - What’s the hardest airport in Australia to land in and why?

Regional airports tend to be more challenging, due to the types of on-ground navigation systems. At major capital city airports, we have instrument landing aids, which often aren’t available at regional ports. Our training as pilots however allows us a great deal of expertise and knowledge of managing air space at regional airports.

And the great thing about all this is that my job remains really interesting and challenging with so many different factors to consider, based on the airports you’re flying into. So in many ways, the more challenging airports can be just as enjoyable because you are able to use different skills during take-off and landing.

Jayne S - Can you actually take off or land a plane on automatic pilot or any other system?

The short answer here is no. At Virgin Australia, all take-offs are manually flown by pilots. We have systems that allow for automatic landings if necessary, however it’s rare to use these. The main reason why these may be used occasionally is to assist if we’re landing in heavy fog or other very tricky conditions. We are trained and tested on these systems regularly, but for the vast majority of flights, pilots will land the aircraft manually.

Peter F - Why is that sometimes when you are descending the whole process is quite smooth, whereas other times you are appear to descend much faster? Also is it true that when you are descending, you switch the engines off?

When we begin a descent, the engines remain running at idle. This is similar to being at traffic lights in your car. The engine is still running, but no power is being applied to the accelerator. In an aircraft, this is the same with thrust in the engines. When engines are at idle and the nose of the aircraft is tilted down slightly, the aircraft will begin its decent.

During the last 20-30 minutes of a flight, most manoeuvres are done to position the aircraft into a landing sequence that is managed by air traffic controllers. To do this, some aircraft might be sped up slightly to get into sequence, and other times they might need to be slowed down slightly. This is why passengers might feel a decent is slightly quicker or very gradual, as it’s all a matter of getting into sequence for landing.

Peter C - Why do you have your headlights on when landing in the daytime?

Having lights on during the day is just another way to improve visibility between aircraft and air traffic control.

Alice A - How do you remember everything? All the switches, all the buttons.

It might look like a random panel of switches, but all controls are split into sections. You’ll have a fuel panel, electrical panel, or the air-conditioning panel for example, and all of these are checked prior to take-off. A lot of the switches are only used if the pilots need to override an automated system. So while we need to know the location and actions of every switch, they are only used if needed.

John M - How do you land and stop those aircraft from that speed and weight?

There’s several ways that we slow the aircraft down. During flight, the wing is streamlined to be a high-speed flying wing, but we can slow ourselves down by extending the flaps on the wing to create the same amount of lift, but at a lower speed. This is the main way we slow the aircraft down in the air. When the aircraft touches down on the ground, the majority of the weight in the landing is taken by the main wheels. Then, quite a lot of things happen in an automated sequence. Once we’re on the ground, we want to stay there, so you’ll notice the wing spoilers lift up, which removes the amount of lift from the wing. An auto-brake system can be set to the length of runway, aircraft weight and conditions, and this will kick in after 2 seconds of landing. These procedures used to be activated by pilots, but the automated process means they can be activated much quicker than human reaction times, and that’s important when you’re landing at 280km p/hour! Although the systems are automated, pilots will have a discussion about the settings used based on the current conditions, to ensure the landing is as smooth and efficient as possible.

We hope this was a helpful insight into the life of a pilot and how aspiring aviators can follow their dreams. Stay tuned for more of your questions answered by our pilots!

Friday, May 9th, 2014

Ask A Pilot – How did you get started?

When the question of, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?‘ is asked, ‘a pilot’ tends to be one of the more popular answers that young children respond with. But what does it take to become a pilot, and how does someone start their journey? Recently, we asked our Facebook fans to submit questions that they would love to ask a pilot. Well, you asked the questions, and here are the answers from our pilots!



Andrew C - How did you manage to become an airline pilot?

From a young age I was very keen to become a pilot. To take up flying straight out of school was difficult due to the extensive hours and training needed, and the associated costs involved. I became an electrician for the first 12 years after high school, but during that time the desire to become a pilot stayed with me. After I was earning more money from my day job, I was able to start flight training, so I was essentially a self-funded pilot. I did all my own training and gained all the licences to fly commercially, including my instructor rating.

After gaining my commercial license, I resigned from my job as an electrician and went in search of paid flying roles. I found work for 4 years in Darwin, flying lighter aircraft before progressing into a regional airline role in NSW for 4 years. I was then lucky enough to work in England for 4 years, before being offered a role as a pilot with Virgin Australia. I’ve been at Virgin Australia for just over 11 years, and a Captain for the past 9 years.

Susan S - What made you want to become a pilot?

I was lucky enough to have an uncle who was heavily involved in aviation, and visiting his home when I was a young boy was what sparked my interest. He had a flight simulator in his backyard shed, called a Link Trainer. It was an early simulator used to train pilots in WWII. I was able to use the simulator during these early years, and that got me interested to pursue flying when I was older.

Brodie L - How long does it take to be a pilot?

It can depend greatly on the path you take, but generally I’d suggest it’s a minimum of 5 years, which is the commitment you’d need to make to the profession. After that time, it’s likely that you’ve gathered the qualifications and experience to seek employment to continue the career path with more steady income. In a way, it’s a like a trade apprenticeship, or studying medicine – you need to spend a substantial amount of time learning and practicing before you’re able to begin permanent employment.

Shannon H - How did it feel the first time you landed and took off after you graduated?

Funnily enough, your first flight is quite lonely as you’re by yourself without an instructor in a light aircraft. There’s definitely a sense of achievement, however you’ve trained a lot for that situation so you feel very ready to take control.

Andy W - What would your recommendations be for getting into a commercial pilot position?

Dedication is the key characteristic needed to become a pilot. It’s not a career path to take on lightly, and you need to have the self-belief to stick with it, as it takes many years of training before you are able to enter a paid position. For younger aspiring pilots, completing Year 12 with a focus on Maths, Science and Physics can definitely be helpful. After school, there are various paths to take. You could look at joining the RAAF, a cadet program such as Virgin Australia’s own program, studying a degree in aviation, or building your experience via self-funding.

Josh R - My son wants to be a pilot when he is older. What is the best study path for him to take to achieve his dream?

There are plenty of ways to be involved in the aviation at a young age, and you can actually gain your private pilot licence at 16. Aside from ensuring you complete your high school studies, there are cadet programs – including Virgin Australia’s own cadet program – as well as Scout aviation initiatives in some states, which are great ways for younger people to start their journey. Being involved in your local aero club and going for a joy flight with a trained pilot can also be a great introduction.


We hope this was a helpful insight into the life of a pilot and how aspiring aviators can follow their dreams. Stay tuned for more of your questions answered by our pilots!