We are pleased to interview a Boeing 737 First Officer flying for a European Low-Cost Airline.
He is talking about his life as an airline pilot, but also about his daily operations flying across Europe and North Africa.
Hi! First of all thank you for taking the time to answer our interview!
Could you please introduce yourself to the visitors? Where did you started flying and how did you managed to get that first airline job as a Boeing 737 First Officer?
I’m a 25 year old First-Officer from The Netherlands, flying the Boeing 737NG across the European and African skies.
In high school, I wanted to join the Royal Netherlands Airforce as a pilot. I attended the selection process in the second last year of high school, but didn’t make it through. This was such a setback that, after that moment, I wasn’t thinking about becoming a pilot for a few years.
After high school, I started University subject: Aeronautical Engineering course. After the first two years (major phase), one has to choose a direction to specialise in (minor phase). In the first two years, I realised that being in the office all day, working 9-5, behind a desk and a computer, is not really my thing. At that moment, I choose to go to in a flight school as part of my minor phase.
The flying lessons were done in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. For 8 months, I have been flying around there. Only the ME-IR part (Multi-Engine Instrument Rating) was done in Europe, followed by an MCC and JOC course in a Boeing 737 FFS.
After finishing flight school, I had to do a graduation research for my University study. The project I graduated with was a new concept for a leading edge slat. In this slat, de-/anti-ice was performed by an electric heating element, instead of using hot bleed air from the engines.
Also, I realised that the job market for pilots is not the best, so it is important to keep flying. I got myself a part-time flying job, flying Cessna 150/172’s for a sightseeing company in the Netherlands. This job gave me my first experience in commercial flying, but more important, it is really fun to do!
After about one and a half year an airliner finally offered me my first and current airline pilot job on the Boeing 737. To remain current in IR procedures and be prepared for any interview, sim check or selection process, I studied the ATPL theory over and over and did sim flying almost every month.
What was the most important and challenging part of your flight training?
The most challenging part is not in flight training itself. It is when you are done with your training and searching for a job. These days it is very hard to find a first job as a pilot. Fortunately, my flight school had a connection with a few airlines, which gave me some opportunities. One of those opportunities is now my current employer.
Can you explain a typical day at work?
A typical day starts at the crewroom in the airport. That is where the crew meets each other, normally around an hour before departure. The cabin crew do their briefing, and reviewing of some procedures, the pilots get and check all the flight documents prepared by operations.
This normally includes the flight plans for the flights of the day, current and forecasted weather at destinations/alternates and en-route alternate airfields, NOTAMs for the same airports as well as NOTAMs for the area around the route, wind charts and significant weather charts (SWC) which shows the jet streams, areas of CAT (clear air turbulence) and areas of forecasted icing. Based on the known weather, planned and commercial alternate and the route, we make a decision about how much fuel we order for the first flight.
We make sure the tripkit contains everything we need. The tripkit includes: HI and LOW en-route charts (at least for the area of the route), airfield charts for departure/destination and alternates, performance tables for departure/destination and alternates and performance booklet. For some routes crossing the atlantic ocean between the Canary Islands and Ireland/UK, also an Atlantic crossing briefing and associated charts must be present.
When this is all done, we head out to the aircraft. The Pilot Fliying (PF) that sector, sets up the aircraft for departure and the route. In the mean time the Pilot Monitoring (PM) does the walk-around and checks the overal state of the aircraft. Together, the departure clearance is received from delivery, the route is checked for any mistakes, instruments are checked for any disagree between left and right and the departure (SID) including the navigation setup is briefed.
When we receive the loadsheet, provided by the dispatcher, we do the performance calculations. Calculating the trust setting, flap setting, V1, Vrotate, and V2. When this is done and the “Before start checklist” is complete, the flight deck is good to go.
During the pushback we start the engines, taxi to the runway, do the “Before Take-off checklist” and when cleared by the tower, we take-off. When I’m PF, I try to fly the departure manually depending on the conditions that day (Boeing advises to keep autothrottle in however). This way I continue to gain more experience, get a good feeling of the aircraft, and it keeps you ahead of the aircraft in cases where you need to be.
When climbing out, it is time for the autopilot to be engaged. The computer is now fully in control of the airplane. At this point, the pilot job changes from controlling the airplane to monitoring what the automatics do with the airplane. Of course, when the output is something that is not required, we are still there to take control or make corrective inputs to the automatics.
In cruise, the PM does the paperwork. The flight plan is used to calculate time overhead waypoints and to monitor and calculate the fuel burn. Also, the information received from the SWC and wind charts is used to decide for the route and/or the altitude/Flight Level to fly.
About 150NM before the top of descent, the PF starts with setting up for the arrival, approach and landing. Nav aids are being tuned, weather information of destination received, instruments set, routing in the FMC checked and finally the PF briefs the PM for the arrival and approach. For the approach, the same accounts as for the departure. I try to fly manual as much as possible.
After landing, my task is to ‘clean up’ the aircraft. Flaps retracted, stabilizer around the average takeoff setting, autobrakes off, probe heat off, so it is ready for a new set up for the next flight. When on stand, parking brake set and an electricity source selected, the engines can be shutdown and the “(Transit)Shutdown checklist” is performed. If this is not the last sector of the day, everything starts all over again. Starting with the weather and fuel decision.
After the last flight of the day, The aircraft is fully shut down and closed. Back in the crewroom it is now time to put the fuel numbers, flight time, passenger number, delays, etc. into the system for the airline. Notifications are checked for any changes in the roster and then it is time to leave the airport to go home.
What is the thing that impress you the most when flying the 737?
I am always impressed by the force of nature. It is really unbelievable what nature is able to do.
I’ve experienced severe turbulence which is indescribable. Impossible to read any of the instruments, being tossed around in the flight deck, very very hard to fly the aircraft.
Thunderstorms are always an amazing sight. The shape of the cloud itself, the rain and/or hail below, and of course the lightning.
During last weeks storm in the Canaries, we had winds of 40 kts gusting 50 kts. The sea was so rough, the waves were all white where it is normally a calm sea. Mud streams were flowing down the hills, the airport was flooded with 5mm of water.
In Marseille I met the famous Mistral wind. Winds of up to 55 kts where not an exception, not as a gust, but 55 kts steady wind! Runway heading in Marseille however, which is exactly the direction the wind is blowing from.
In Catania I was fortunate enough to experience an erupting volcano. Mount Etna was erupting the evening I arrived there. An amazing sight from the airport on the mountain with a nice fountain of red hot lava thrown meters high in the air.
Did you already had to deal with an emergency (technical or medical)? How did you managed it?
So far, I did not have to deal with an emergency of any kind. I’ve had some minor technical issues, but luckily not a major emergency.
From what we can hear everyday about the low-cost airlines, conditions and support for the employees is almost zero. Is there anything you can say about this?
It is a tough time for any company, also for a lot of airlines. All the companies are looking for lower expenses. One way to do it is through the terms and conditions of their employees. I think the LCC found a way to reduce the labour costs in many different ways. Either via a contract with very low pay and bad secondary conditions, to being self employed and payed by the scheduled(!) block hour. Some companies make it even worse than that, they let their pilots pay for the training, pay for 500 or 1000 hours flight time and then take a new pilot for the same scheme. This, in my eyes, is ridiculous. I really hope no one of your readers will come in one of those horrible pay-to-fly schemes.
If you don’t mind, we would like to talk about the lifestyle. Where are you based in and where are you coming from? Are you commuting to see your family/friends/girlfriend? What about social life?
Originally I am from the Netherlands. However, there are very very few jobs in the Dutch airlines. I found a job in Spain. Mainly, I fly from Barcelona and Madrid. I like the fact that these are big airports where the operations are a little different from the operation in the smaller or regional airports.
I recently moved to the Canary Islands. Mainly for the good weather, the surfing opportunities and to be away from the busy cities for a few days. Commuting from the Canaries to mainland Spain is good. A lot of airlines fly between the Islands and Spain. Most of the time I fly from Barcelona where I stay with friends. Together we have a nice little apartment in the city centre. The very few times I fly out of Madrid I stay in a Hotel at the airport for a few days. It is not like the stories from the USA, where the regional airline pilots stay in an apartment which is to be shared with loads of people.
My social life is more and more moving from the Netherlands to the Canaries and Spain. Quite a lot of pilots have their home or a second house down in the Canaries. Together we go out for a lunch, dinner, drinks or chill out at the beach and make our mind clear while surfing!
How do you see the future of the Airline industry? Which advices could you give to the freshly graduated Ab-Initio pilots who are struggling to find a job?
It is hard to predict the future. Nobody expected 9/11, nobody expected the SARS disease, nobody expected the crisis nowadays to be this big. The result of these three examples were terrible for the airline industry, so it has been before and so it will be in the future. Fortunately, the Ebola disease didn’t spread all around the world, that would have been more disastrous for the industry.
What we see now is that the economy is slowly but steadily growing. That is good for airlines, good for jobs, good for terms and conditions.
For freshly graduated ab-initio pilots I would advice them to not give up! It is hard to get an interview for an airline, so it might be worth it to find a job in general aviation. That way, at least you make flight hours. In the meanwhile you can apply for a job at an airline, or maybe gradually climb the ladder. Keep flying the sightseeing flights (thats how I started), take your parents/friends/family for a nice trip, continue to train for that interview. It might be your only chance! I know it is hard to keep motivated, but the moment you loose motivation, you will make it even harder if you get a call for that interview.
You are the manager of the famous YouTube channel as well as the Facebook page, PilotsLife737. How did you get started with this channel?
After about half a year of flying, I realised that we as pilots experience and see things, other people might want to see as well. In most (almost every) airline, it is no longer allowed to visit the flight deck, or fly on the jumpseat. Sharing the views from the flight deck on social media is now one of the few options to have others enjoy our job and view as well. That’s why I started the pages.
I think both of the pages are doing quite well. In about a year, the Facebook page has more than 10.000 likes and the Youtube page has almost 1.000 subscribers.
Do the airline agree that you record some parts of the flight?
So far, no captain has ever said ‘no’ to me making a video. If something goes not the way it should go, we can review the video, but I won’t publish it anywhere.
Do you have any future projects for a new video on YouTube?
Lately, it has been a bit quiet on the PilotsLife737 YouTube channel. I’ve been very busy flying, recurrent training and checking (we need to do every 6 months), moving from Spain to the Canaries and studying (Aeronautical Engineering course). However, as I finished (and passed) the recurrent training, settled down in the Canaries and almost done studying, I recently started working on a new project. I don’t know yet when it will be available, but you will see it in YouTube and Facebook, for sure!
Is there a video and/or some pictures you want to share with our readers?
New video is coming soon! For now, enjoy the previous videos made by PilotsLife737!
Here are some additional pictures for you:
Thanks a lot for making such interesting and precise answers! On behalf of the Pilotman.net team, we wish you a lot of success in your future career!