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Pilots: What You Don’t Know

The Flight Side
Pilots: What You Don’t Know

Airline pilots are often viewed as the embodiment of ‘cool, calm and collected’ – but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye

Pilots are often said to have the best view from the office but their job also comes with heavy responsibilities. Shuttling hundreds of passengers to and from domestic and international destinations and crossing different time zones daily can take a toll on their health, too, resulting in some pilots having to retire earlier than planned. There are a few secrets that pilots seldom talk about and are generally unknown to the public. Here are eight of them.


Do pilots freak out during emergencies?

Everyone has their fears, and pilots are no exception. However, they undergo extensive training to deal with adverse conditions and emergencies. Pilot error resulting in accidents do happen but such cases are rare. The good news is pilots are regularly sent for aptitude and attitude assessments, psychological and competency tests and trained to handle emergency situations in a simulator. Those who are prone to losing control under stress do not make it through flight tests.

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Are pilots afraid of lightning?

Another misconception is that pilots are afraid of lightning striking the aircraft. Yes, it does happen, perhaps once a year on average, but fortunately modern planes are designed to withstand lightning strikes. The electricity simply passes safely across the plane's aluminium skin with minimal to no damage.

What do pilots really worry about while flying?

Surprisingly, turbulence – which causes the plane to shake for a few minutes – is of less concern to pilots. Passengers might be alarmed and feel uncomfortable but they are safe as long as they are strapped down with safety belts on their seats. What pilots fear more are updrafts, which are upward moving air currents. When a plane hits an updraft, it throws everything up in the air and then down very violently. Updrafts occur during bad weather conditions, cannot be detected on radar and have a higher potential to affect flight safety.

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Do pilots suffer from radiation?

Pilots spend a lot of time in the sky at high altitudes and are exposed to cosmic rays much more than ordinary folks. In fact, pilots are classified as radiation workers, in the same category as X-ray technicians and nuclear power workers. However, the risk of radiation exposure is reduced when flying at night.

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Do pilots relax in the cockpit?

The short answer is no. Pilots do not have the luxury to read magazines, listen to music or kick back and relax. The cockpit is a stressful environment and they need to constantly monitor all variables such ase weather condition, instructions from air traffic control, airplane speed, flight path and so on. However, they can chat with their colleagues in the cockpit.

Is the co-pilot qualified to fly?

The first officer or co-pilot is the second-in-command of an aircraft. The common misconception is that the co-pilot is a novice who is seeking experience before becoming a pilot. The co-pilot is fully trained and qualified to take control of the aircraft when the pilot is unable to perform his duty. During long haul flights, it is common for the pilot and the co-pilot to take turns to fly the plane.

 

Do pilots have fun during stopovers?

Pilots are humans too, and they do try to get some time off to relax and enjoy themselves during stopovers. They could play a round of golf, go clubbing, enjoy a good meal, go sightseeing or shopping before hopping on-board and piloting the next flight.

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Do pilots travel for free?

Well, their expenses such as food and accommodation are all covered while on duty. Pilots are also given a daily per diem allowance to cope with the higher cost of living in some cities but this allowance varies with different airlines. When they are off-duty, they get normal airline employee perks which can range from free to discounted airfare but usually on a standby basis, meaning whenever there are seats left unsold.

 

Photos © iStock by Getty Images

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