Going back to work… Big deal!
I’m going back to work. It’s been a while. Coronavirus is still out there. People are still dying of it. People are still terrified of it. Am I worried?
It’s been a while
Its now been almost 3 months since I was furloughed from work. I’ve been an airline pilot now for over a decade, and this is by far the worst situation I have ever seen the aviation industry face.
During this past three months, I’ve laughed, I’ve cried. I’ve been up, down, left and right. The whole situation has been insanely stressful at times, yet at other times, immeasurably magical.
Without a doubt, I have to say that the most wonderful thing about being furloughed is the fact that I have managed to spend some truly memorable moments with my beautiful wife and children. From playing in the mud pit in our garden, to walking through the forest on our doorstep, to just building Lego Avengers and putting puzzles together — it’s all been worth it to me.
But with all that being said, I am looking forward to going back to work, although it does bring a slight melancholy feel to my world as it is now. Flying has always been a passion for me and being a pilot has always been a privilege. Plus, I need to start making some “wonga” again to keep putting food on that table!
Yay! Something on my roster!
It was a Friday afternoon and the sun was beaming heavy droplets of rain upon the window. Or was it a Tuesday morning when the storm clouds were bellowing great rays of sunshine upon my sliding double doors? Well whatever day it was, I remember it clearly (as you can obviously tell).
I signed in to the roster portal on my iDevice and had a peek to see if there was anything on my roster other than “contactable”. And low and behold, there was! I had my recurrent simulator training for two days in a row! That’s amaaaaazing!!! I thought to myself! I’m going to be behind the stick again, even if it is only in a simulator.
Then it hit me…
When the time comes for me to do this recurrent training/check thing, I’m going to have not flown for over 3 months! How do they expect me to do a simulator and throw engine failures and all other sorts of failures at me, when I don’t even feel confident that I’ll be able to even get the plane away from the gate!?
Here comes my saviour… Microsoft Flight Simulator X and Aerosoft Airbus A320X!
After downloading those two bits of software, I managed to very quickly get back into my SOP’s and with my trusty Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback 2 Joystick ever at the ready, I managed to get some decent hand flying and scanning techniques in the training regime as well. Sweet!
The day has come…
The first of my two days in the simulator was a morning session. I woke up bright and early, had a shower and put on the uniform that I had really come to miss wearing! I slid the epaulettes onto my shoulders, kissed the Mrs goodbye and hit the road.
When I got to the sim centre, things were immediately different. It was compulsory to wear a face mask when walking around the building and, since I didn’t have one at the time, I used one that was provided by the company. Honestly, trying to put that thing on was more challenging than the simulator session itself! You see, the mask wasn’t one of those nice easy elasticated ones, no! It was a tie back one. Eventually I got it and walked into the main foyer.
The building was scattered with hand sanitiser everywhere. It was expected and known to me that this would be the case. Me being precautious, every time I passed a sanitising station, I would have a little squirt and get my hands clean(er), to the point where my skin just permanently stank of disinfecting alcohol! I met my instructor along with the first officer that I had been paired with, and we decided to give each other a co-vid customary wave hello from about 2 metres away, then walked up to the briefing room. Once in the room, we took our seats, while properly observing social distancing, then removed our masks to begin talking.
The session begins
The briefing for the session was really nice and relaxed. The instructor was brilliant and was well aware that the first officer and myself hadn’t flown for ages. He was also well aware that we were both bricking our pants at this moment. But the great thing was, he eased our worries and helped us really get back into the swing of things.
When we finally got into the simulator and got the show rolling, it was incredible. The feeling of being back in that flight deck was magical, but then came the simulated failures. First was a LGCIU (Landing Gear Control and Interface Unit) failure. Basically, a computer than helps control the landing gear and other functions. It wasn’t a big deal, because we have a second LGCIU. But little did we know that things were about to get hairier than David Hasselhoff’s chest!
So, soon after that first failure, we get ANOTHER failure. This time it’s an electric issue — the DC BUS 2 has failed. Now all of a sudden, the autopilot and auto thrust kick out, so hey, it’s manual flying climbing through 28000 feet. Great times! I’ve not flown for over 3 months and now I’ve got to fly an aircraft manually. Yay!
Don’t worry Jean-Paul, I say to myself. You got this. Just remember that Flight Simulator X and A320X training! I do remember. And at that moment I’m filled with a confidence that pushes me through the next stage of my training. We manage the issue and realise that we need to divert. We also realise that we have lost the ability to lower the landing gear (wheels) using hydraulics, so it will have to be done manually by gravity. No big deal. It just means we need to get ready for landing a little earlier than normal.
The other issue is that we have lost some of our GPWS (Ground Proximity Warning Systems). This means that the aircraft won’t warn us if we are getting too close to terrain. Well that could be an issue, but in this case, the weather is gorgeous and even at 28000 feet, we can see everything down below, so worse case scenario, we look for terrain with our eyes!
At this point we are flying along the simulated coast of Croatia, and a good distance away, on the ND (Navigational Display), I can see Zadar. There are also a few other options across the sea in Italy, that being Ancona and Brindisi. Let’s get the weather and landing capability for all of the airports.
The weather comes in and all three airports have stunning conditions! The first officer and I go through the decision making process and failure management model to decide what we are going to do. We decide to divert to Zadar. Yes, there is some terrain in Zadar, but we are going to be under positive radar control, and also, we can see clearly, so even though it’s a risk, as long as the holes in the Swiss cheese don’t line up, we will be alright.
We divert, we land and everything is safe. Day 1 is done!
The second day was all about training. We practiced engine failures after takeoffs, stalls, upset prevention and recovery as well as lots of other non normal situations. Everything went really well, and I came out of both days feeling absolutely confident that I could go back to work and fly confidently.
I signed out of the simulator building, jumped in my car and headed home, comfortable in the knowledge that my LOE was covered for another year.
Looking at it retrospectively now, there just one thing I think I need to say…
There wasn’t a single moment while at work in that training centre that I didn’t feel safe. In fact, I firmly believe that bio-security measures are put in place and followed by the people, then there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. A lot of moving forward and into a new normal will depend on us as people being able to follow guidance and use common sense. Let’s see if said common sense actually prevails in the weeks, months and years to come.
Thanks for taking the time to read this little nugget of my life! As always, if you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to get in touch here. Also, if you want to be notified when I upload new posts, then just pop your name and email address in the box below.
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See you in the next one.
The Humble Pilot