The cockpit is the ‘sacred’ space of an airplane. It’s a mystery how pilots operate inside this shell. Pilot Capt Karan Parmar takes us right inside!
A decorated ex-Air Force personnel, Capt Parmar has flown Boeings, fighter jets and helicopters. He is currently working with a private airline.
Q – What is the standard procedure for pilots from takeoff to landing?
For domestic flights, crew members have to reach one hour before the scheduled take-off. Even earlier for international flights – roughly one and a half hour before. Then we need to do our homework. Study the route, fuel requirement, navigation, weather conditions and other technical parameters.
Accordingly, we conduct a joint briefing with the cabin crew to discuss procedures and explain the flight plan. Once we enter the plane, our primary duty is to set up instruments and get Air Traffic Controller (ATC) clearances. Next crucial step is to calculate the weight. We can only do this when passengers have boarded the plane.
From take-off to a safe height of 10,000 feet, pilots aren’t supposed to be disturbed. After we’ve crossed this climb, the lead cabin attendant calls on the intercom to check if all is well. Once communication is established, they can start service. Even pilots can ask for tea or coffee after the plane has reached top of the flight – generally after 20-25 minutes.
Now about meals: we are given meals according to the duration of the flight. Every crew member, including cabin crew, gets different meals so that in case of food poisoning, the entire crew shouldn’t fall sick together. Who would fly the plane if everyone were to be grumbling in pain! Plus, we get full fledged meals which differ from the ones passengers get.
Meanwhile, it’s a norm for the cabin crew to get in touch with the flying staff every half an hour. They can call or enter the cockpit.
After landing, it takes 15-20 minutes to wrap up all paper work and sign some documents. Then we are free to go.
Q – How do pilots rest during flights and where?
Pilots don’t need to rest during short flights. But in long flights, we alternate i.e. one member rests while the other continues to fly. Just to make it more secure, cabin crew periodically ask the pilot in control if everything is in order. We also have ‘relief crews’ with whom we take shifts in flying.
Now, of course one can’t sleep on the pilot’s seat. So there are bunks where a pilot can rest comfortably.
Q – How important is the equation between the chief pilot and first officer?
Very important. You need a cordial and symbiotic relationship because both members have to help one another. Flying involves co-ordination and no one can fly a Boeing alone. So it’s of utmost importance that pilots maintain a good connection without any age, hierarchy or seniority barriers.
Q – How do pilots respond to an in-flight medical emergency?
Every plane is equipped with an advanced medical kit which includes medicines to all kinds of necessary tools. Cabin crew are also trained extensively to deal with small emergencies. But if it is something serious, then we follow a particular procedure: we check if there is a doctor on board. If yes, then he or she calls the shots. If we can’t find anyone, then cabin attendants decide if we need to land at the earliest and ask for further medical assistance from ground control.
Q – How do you get in touch with ATC (Air Traffic Controller) immediately during an emergency?
We don’t need to. Flying staff is never really out of touch with them. We need their assistance and feedback often, so it is vital to be connected. All we have to do is pick up the micro-phone and press a button.
Q – Is language an issue between pilots and ATCs of different countries?
Not at all. All flying associated personnel communicate in English as per standard universal rules. But yes, people of different nationalities have different accents, which can be tricky. But you eventually get used to different accents and it generally doesn’t result in communication break-down.
Q – Nowadays most planes can be flown on auto-pilot with bare minimum assistance. How safe is it and what is left of the pilot’s role when you use automation?
Automation is a very sophisticated tool which is actually quite safe. The plane can manoeuvre itself with precision, even during emergencies. But it’s not like pilots can just sit back and relax. We still have to update the ATCs and maintain communication. More importantly, we need to monitor and over-see every action. Auto pilot is merely a machine to which we give instructions. We have the onus to check if instructions like altitude, direction, speed etc are being followed.
Q – Since automation has made flying easier, do you think it has affected pilot skills?
This is a very debatable issue. To some extent, yes it can be true because auto pilot does most of the work now. Disuse of a machine can make you less equipped to handle it.
Q – Should I be scared of turbulence?
There is absolutely nothing to be scared of. Look, a plane is a very strong machine. It is made to withstand adverse conditions of all sorts. Turbulence is a minor disturbance in most cases. Secondly, we have a advanced technologies and instruments to predict and avoid any unwanted weather conditions. Plus, studies suggest that there have rarely been any injuries due to turbulence. All you need to do is fasten your seat belt and sit calmly.
Q – We have heard that pilots tend to under-play the gravity of an emergency to passengers. Is it true?
Yes, I’d have to say so. The reason being: passengers don’t understand technical terms, so they might panic and create havoc. They could try and take measures on their own which could be disastrous for all of us.
Q – Lastly, it is a common belief that a pilot can be judged by his or her landing and take-off skills. The smoother the touch-down, the better pilot. How credible is this notion?
Alas! Many people hold this view, but it’s not true. Yes, a pilot could have good skills if he can make a smooth touch-down. But it doesn’t do justice to his or her flying skills.
Sometimes conditions demand firm landings and the passengers may not get this. It doesn’t mean the pilot is inexperienced; only that the pilot could be adjusting to weather conditions or runway problems.
Capt Karan Parmar spoke to Kamna Rishiraj of Team Travel Secrets