Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fun facts about Pilots

On a recent flight, I sat alongside a pilot who was returning home to the Seattle area. A lot of interesting things came up in my chat with the pilot, stuff I didn't really know about:
  • Pilots fly free on all domestic routes, regardless of airlines. All airlines have an agreement to lets each others' pilots occupy empty seats.
  • If no seats are available, the travelling pilot can also occupy an extra seat in the cockpit that is usually empty.
  • Pilots retire at 65(!).
  • The pilot I spoke with had been flying for 30 years. His pay/benefits today are half what they were 20 years ago (adjusted for inflation).
  • Until ~10 years ago, most commercial pilots came from the military (air force/navy). Now, it's about 50% military and 50% from pilot schools.
  • For pilots, career all about seniority. If this guy (a captain currently) were to leave his airline and join another airline he would start as a flight engineer. That's one level below first officer, who is below captain. This is a result of unionization.
  • Flights longer than 8 hours require 3 pilots (1 captain and 2 first officers) to rotate flying duties. Flights longer than 12 hours require 4 pilots (1 captain and 3 first officers). They usually fly 3-4 hour shifts.
  • Pilots at traditional airlines (American, Continental) make more than pilots at startup airlines (Virgin America, Jet Blue).
  • Airlines like Horizon Air/American Eagle/etc serve as training grounds for pilots, who then move to the more lucrative airlines.
  • On average, pilots fly between 9 and 14 days a month.
  • Pilots train on simulators every 9 months, and typically work on hard scenarios like dual engine failures once every couple of years.
  • Boeing and MD planes have "steering wheel" type controls. Airbus has fly-by-wire joystick like controls.
  • A 737 needs about 6000 feet to land comfortably. Headwind makes a huge difference in amount of runway needed.
  • Airbus planes felt more "robust" to this pilot.
  • Bird hits are more common than passengers realize.
  • Tegucigalpa, Honduras, is the hardest airport that he's landed in. Overshooting the 5000 foot runway drops you off a cliff and on to a strip mall. There have been 2 crashes in the last few years, with one dead pilot.


Ryan said...

"A 737 needs about 6000 yards to land comfortably."

This is false. 6000 yards is 18000 feet and outside of military airfields, there's basically only 1 runway in the world that long.


The landing distance for a fully-loaded 737 is about 6000 - 8000 feet, depending on a lot of factors. However, Santos Dumont in Brazil regularly receives 737s and it's just 4300 feet.

Viraj Mody said...

Ryan, you're right. I typed yards when I meant feet. Of course, this is just what the pilot told me. I fixed my post.

Rich said...

If you're interested in this stuff, be sure to subscribe to Patrick Smith's blog "Ask the Pilot" (or buy his book). He covers all sorts of interesting flying trivia and will deconstruct major flight events when they occur. Definitely recommended.