Thursday, 5 March 2015

So You are a pilot?

Invariably when meeting somebody for the first time the question "What do you do?" comes up. The real meaning being what do you do for a living, to pay the bills and sadly that ends up most of the time being a definition of who you are. Generally not taking into account that most people were alive for at least twenty years before embarking on their careers and of course there are other things we do like eat, sleep etc... Having been out of employment for a while I dislike this question as there is more to who we are than our formal employment. That said let me get to the thrust of this post- see what I did there? Which is a little bit of a primer or FAQ if you will of my current profession. Ever since time immemorial man has been enchanted buy flight wishing to be free as the birds  something attested by the tragic tale of Icarus and finally realised when science caught up with our dreams. In our country we are not to many so once one introduces themselves as one some common questions with some assumptions frequently come up. Here we go...

So you're a pilot- which airline?

Not all pilots work for airlines. Some are students, others have a private licence for recreational purposes and then there are those with a commercial licence who are still looking for work which is very common. For those fortunate enough to be employed there are many places one could be for instance a flight instructor which is a common route for building hours, military, a charter pilot . A lot of those who work in General Aviation work in charters for business, tours, humanitarian work, surveying, carrying miraa(khat) etc and those are not formal airlines. At Wilson airport in Nairobi this is most likely what you will find as there are only a couple of airlines based there. Also there are those who are simply building hours in the bush without pay.

If one happens to answer the previous on in the affirmative what comes up next is- Which routes?
Another assumption made is that we fly a certain set of routes but that is not exactly how it works. There are many different models of aircraft and one needs a specific qualification to fly each which is termed a rating. The size and capabilities of the aircraft you fly then determine which routes you do. In a scheduled airline with more than one aircraft type there is an entry fleet usually the lightest aircraft which does short routes and as one gains experience they move on to bigger ones and fly further. So a better question  to ask is "which aircraft do you fly? "

Another one- Since you use autopilot you just sit there, right?
Naturally it is assumed that the autopilot does all the work and pilots just sit there drinking coffee and flirting with the air hostesses. That picture is not accurate. Granted the autopilot greatly reduces the workload but it is still the human in charge. The human is the one who programs it and ensures that the instructions entered are followed. The pilot tells it when to turn, climb and at what speed. Also the pilot has to keep a check on the aircraft systems to make sure they are performing as required and also make changes as dictated by the external environment or instructions by air traffic control. In any case the reason people are there is for when things do not go as expected and that is the focus of pilot training and the numerous emergency drills that are done and evaluated at frequent intervals. So in essence the presence of the autopilot does not mean zero work.

You must get a lot of girls right? Pilots are players

This is an assumption. Anybody can be a player whether you are Pilot, doctor, teacher or sell sweets along Uhuru Highway. Getting a Commercial pilot licence does not automatically give one game. You wither had it before or you didn't. Then again it all boils down to one's character.

There ends my brief FAQ which I hope has answered some basic questions and common misconceptions about flying. The comments section is open for more ...