* Parked outside Terminal 2 at Paris CDG Airport *
Hey there, I hope you're well!
What a busy few weeks it's been. There's been flying, flying and more flying. Before you start your flying career any pilot will tell you just how busy the summer season is and having had some dispatch experience during the same period I felt I had an element of exposure to that. How wrong I was. While ground operations are mighty busy throughout the summer, being in the air is very different.
For an airline to be successful it needs to be efficient at putting its resources to good use - inclusive of crew - and I suppose flying 148 hours across 73 flights between 1st August and 30th September represents just that. My total experience on the Airbus now sits at 420 hours which isn't that far off the first big milestone of 500 hours. You don't achieve anything at that number of hours, it's simply a 3rd of the way to the point where I can unfreeze my licence and legally become a Captain, should both the opportunity present itself and I feel ready at that given time.
If you're interested, those 148 hours represent over half of the total hours I flew in my five months at Liverpool. So from that you can probably gather Bristol is a much busier base. I'm still loving the job and from time-to-time find myself realising exactly what it is I do for a living. It's honestly unbeatable (in my opinion, of course). I've no regrets and only encouragement for anyone who wants to join my colleagues and I at the pointy end. Of course, the industry isn't without risk as seen with the collapse of Thomas Cook Airlines this month. A few of my flight school peers lost their jobs in that ordeal and I wish them the best for the future. The aviation industry truly is an amazing community and it's fantastic to see several airlines come out in support by looking to hire the now redundant workforce. It's a situation I hope to never find myself in!
Since my last post I've flown to several new destinations, including:
That's not exhausted Bristol's larger destination list either, so there's still plenty more to tick off.
* A320 Simulator - approaching London Gatwick Airport. *
As I write this I find it hard to believe I've now been an airline pilot for over seven months. It only seems like yesterday I started flying passengers and yet here we are about to enter October. Where on earth has that time gone?! While the summer season was fast-paced and concludes at the end of the October half-term, winter and its' associated meteorological conditions is only just around the corner. The days are drawing in, low cloud and icing are to become ever more present and we'll likely be using the autopilot to land for us more than we currently do. Anyhow, all of this is a topic for another day.
You may recall that I completed my type-rating in the simulators at the tail end of last year and after six months of flying, I returned to the metaphorical sweatbox this past week for my first biannual sim-check. I sat an LOE sim. I still find it hard to believe I've been at the company long enough to have one, but here we are. Time flies!
I was rather nervous walking across the retractable bridge into the sim but they're a necessary evil to retain the job I love. That said, they're also incredibly beneficial, which I'll come to later on. We have biannual sim checks for two reasons: The first is to satisfy the airline and relevant aviation authorities I am still a capable pilot where non-normal operations are concerned; with the second is to focus on training around current airline and industry trends. Of course ad-hoc training could also be incorporated, such as learning to fly a specific approach to a specific airport.
Having received a few questions following my Instagram Story last week, I thought I'd aim to cover them in this blog post. I hope you find it interesting!
* Visiting the sights of Paris during my LOE trip *
Each sim check is split over two four-hour sessions, one per day. My airline uses simulators located at training centres in London, Paris, Milan and Manchester to name but a few. Where we get sent is entirely based on what works best for the airline at the time. In my case I went to Paris. I was quite happy about that as i'd never been to Paris before and had the entire first day to myself so took the opportunity to see the major sights. The Eiffel Tower was a lot larger in person than I ever imagined it to be. It's quite a marvel of engineering!
Once you've become an airline pilot you're competence for your job is continually checked. How this is done is dependent on the airline, but generally speaking the sim will follow a set structure depending on the aims of a given assessment. There are several acronyms in use for this which I'll explain. These are LPC/OPC and LOE.
The LPC/OPC stands for Licence Proficiency Check and Operator Proficiency Check respectively.
According to the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, it is a requirement that airline pilots revalidate their type-ratings on an annual basis. This renewal forms the LPC. It checks our proficiency for the requirements of the type-rating we hold. It is also the point in which airline pilots revalidate their Instrument Rating. I suppose you could say that the LPC is akin to the LST (Line Skills Test) that you take at the end of your type-rating. They both assess very similar things. An LPC is a very structured check in that it's very pass/fail focussed. With that in mind you somewhat know what you're going to be checked on before you go into the sim because the LPC checks the items we either hope to never face day-to-day or would be impracticable to practice in the real aircraft. This includes Engine Fires, Cabin Depressurisation, Rejected Take Offs etc.
The OPC is rather airline focussed. In many cases the LPC will be likely be covered on your first day with the OPC done on the second although the ultimate structure is down to the airlines' own training department. The OPC is still a check on proficiency but can take more of a training focus if needs be. For example during the OPC we might complete some low visibility training or be taught the specifics of operating to certain airports, such as Innsbruck. The OPC therefore is less prescribed than the LPC and will generally vary from year to year.
LOE stands for Line Oriented Evaluation.
An LOE tends to flow much more like an actual flight. Ay my airline we complete the LOE in our uniform and are provided with flight plans in the briefing room prior to the sim. Unlike a normal flight however, we're given failures or problems of escalating complexity. Item one could be as simple as crosswind whereas item two could be something like the loss of a flight control computer. On it's own the failure is manageable because redundancy is in place to pickup the slack, however, it'll be the final item that makes your life harder. Item three in this case could be a failure of a hydraulic system which coupled with the earlier issue makes for a harder to control aircraft and a tougher day at the office.
The LOE focusses on assessing how both crew members work together to handle issues to a safe outcome. Airline training is gradually moving towards competency-based assessments these days and so you're marked in areas such as Teamwork, Leadership, Situational Awareness and Manual Flying to name but a few. The LOE structure will once again vary from airline to airline, but at my airline day two features additional training elements which put us in situations that truly push us to the max. To make it more true to life the second day is not marked which removes that undue stressor from the equation entirely. In fact, I entirely forgot the training captain was sat behind during our day two scenarios.
Note - Other airlines might use different acronyms. They may also do completely different things entirely when it comes to their sim checks. However, the basis principle remains the same. We're being checked to see if we're competent enough to continue flying the line.
* One of the sim centres I've used *
While I was incredibly anxious and nervous about the fact I was being assessed, I found the sims quite valuable. They provide the opportunity for you to get confirmation both from yourself and also from your employer that your flying is still up to the standard expected. I completed the LOE this time around which means I'll do my LPC/OPC in roughly another six months time.
I left the second day of my sim with a very sore head from all the thinking that was going on. We lost all forms of automation including the Autopilot, Auto Thrust, Navigation Systems etc. The chances of this happening for real are small to remote but the combination of failures made for a very tough situation to handle. To make matters worse we were given a time constraint in the form of low fuel and horrendous low cloud everywhere. The captain and I both managed it to a successful outcome; which I'm pleased about. I found the whole exercise highly valuable because while you may hear pilots ahead of time talking about what to expect in your sim, nothing can prepare you for just how challenging it can become when you're in the thick of it. A pilot without any navigation aids combined with a prolonged period of no automation puts your brain in overdrive.
Ultimately, tough scenarios like these help us as pilots to appreciate what a maxed out brain does to you and how you can ease that burden. This is why I feel the sims, while dreaded, are very beneficial. The LOE exercises outlined my strengths and weaknesses and ultimately will help me become a better pilot in the coming months and years of flying. I'm pleased to say I passed the LOE. It's reassuring to know that given my level of experience on the Airbus that my performance in a few competency areas was above the standard expected at this point in my career.
With the sims all out of the way, I can't wait to go flying again. It feels like it's been ages, despite it only being shy of two weeks I last flew.
I hope you found this blog post insightful and do let me know if you have any further questions about the career of a pilot and I'll try to come up with a post for it as and when I can get the time to sit down and plan it.
Until next time,