Strict checks before pilot takes off

Strict checks before pilot takes off

KUALA LUMPUR - As the world focuses on the search and rescue efforts for Malaysia Airlines (MAS)' MH370, the glare of the spotlight is also now trained firmly on the men and women in the aviation industry.

What goes on in the day of a life of a commercial airline pilot?

The NST spoke to a longtime pilot to glean some information on what transpires before a flight departs.

The pilot, who wished to be known only as Mark, said work begun the moment they put on their MAS uniform, as it represented their status as not only the airline's employee, but also as an ambassador for the country.

"Three hours before the flight departure, an airport shuttle will pick up the crew at their respective homes. At the airport, the crew will proceed to the movement centre to 'clock in' by logging onto the computer system.

The roster, he said, is distributed to the technical crew about a month in advance. Identities of the other crew members will only be known to him after he signs in on the day of the flight.

After reporting, the first officer will receive a flight package consisting of a flight plan, weather report, compliance sheet and other important information on the trip as well as general declaration papers for both pilots.

After receiving the flight package, both the captain and co-pilot will study and discuss areas such as safety, fuel, weather, weight, and duration.

"Both pilots will also cross-check each other's passports and licences to verify the validity," he said, adding that the flight attendants would also do the same in their pre-flight briefing.

After completing the necessary calculations, the first officer will then order an initial fuel load for the aircraft. En route to the aircraft, the captain and first officer will then hand over a general declaration paper at the Immigration checkpoint to enable them to proceed.

"A general declaration, which contains the crew names and their flight details, is required for crew flying internationally," he said, adding that the crew would also undergo security checks just like the passengers.

Upon arrival at the aircraft, the first officer then makes pre-flight preparations in the cockpit while the captain does a "walkabout" outside the aircraft to visually inspect it for defects or foreign objects.

If everything is in order, the captain then joins the co-pilot in the cockpit to begin instrument checks.

"As passengers begin boarding, an airline ground staff would enter the plane to hand over the passenger manifest to the crew, as well as provide information on weather changes, if any.

"The ground staff would also inform the pilots on any passengers who failed to board the flight, as well as a description of items in the cargo which could alter the aircraft's fuel consumption," he said, adding that performance calculations were also done at this stage to determine the speed needed for take-off.

Once completed, the crew then waits for clearance from the airport's air traffic control.

He said to minimise human error, once the aircraft took off, the captain would switch to auto-pilot controls at the altitude of 304m. "Upon descent, the auto-pilot would be turned off at the same altitude," he said.

He said throughout the flight, the pilots were required to monitor the progress and key in data such as speed and the various waypoints.

Asked on what he would do if the aircraft needed to make an unplanned landing, he said he would try his best to land at the originating airport.

"If I had taken off in Sepang, I would definitely attempt to land there provided the conditions were feasible," he said, adding that pilots would try their best to avoid landing in jungles or on water.

He said as part of their training, they were prepared to land even when the runway's visibility was zero. He said it was very rare for a plane to make emergency landing, thanks to sophisticated technology which provided back-ups for all vital equipment.

"Even the fuel carried onboard is usually more than needed as there are contingency and emergency tanks."

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