Ask The Pilot

airplane cockpit

I like to say yes more, to try everything once, but there are three things in life I really want never to do. The first is to venture into space. The second is to enter the underwater world via the means of a submarine. And the third is to go in an aeroplane. Despite flying multiple times a year (generally as little as I can), I still brace for impact upon landing and feel my heart pounding at the slightest hint of turbulence. I am not keen on being in any situation where I am entirely dependent upon a mechanical device to protect me from an environment that would kill me within seconds or minutes.

I know that statistically, aeroplanes are very safe (according to Wikipedia, only buses and trains have less deaths per hours of transport), but I just don’t like them. Returning from a day of tandem cycling around the island of Udo (a small island off the bigger island of Jeju, an island south of South Korea), I decided to hitch back the fifty or so kilometres. I was picked up by an Australian pilot and for the duration of the journey, I questioned him about aeroplanes and the life of a pilot. This is what I learnt.

Q: Can turbulence cause an aeroplane to crash?
A: No. [Internet research confirms that this is true, but it makes me no less comfortable]

Q: How many engines do you have on your plane?
A: Two . [He flew a Boeing 737, capacity 180]

Q: What happens if one engine fails?
A: Nothing. The other engine is powerful enough to deal with it.

Q: What happens if one engine fails during take-off?
A: Nothing. The other engine is powerful enough to deal with it.

Q: What happens if both engines fail?
A: You have a big problem.

Q: Do you get trained to deal with double engine failure?
A: No. It’s so rare that the airlines see their money better spent in other areas. Time in simulators is expensive.

Q: How likely is it that people would survive after a double engine failure?
A: It depends on the location and the pilot. If the pilot knew the terrain and had somewhere suitably long and flat where he could land, it could be done. It’s likely that most people would die.

Q: What does it feel like to be sitting in the cockpit, flying hundreds of people many thousands of feet above the ground?
A: Rather boring. Due to automation, we don’t do anything except for checking dials and take-off.

Q: How much time off do you get?
A: I work three weeks on, one week off. On my week off the airline will let me ride as crew to anywhere in the world so I spent several years in Hawaii. Things have changed recently though and I spend most of my free time around Asia. [He works for Korean Air]

Q: If someone wanted to hijack the plane, is it easy to get into the cockpit?
A: No. You wouldn’t be able to get through the door with a sledgehammer and there is a keypad on the outside. Even with the correct code, the pilots can still prevent access by overriding the code.

Q: What causes an engine to fail?
A: It could be anything, but often it is the ingestion of birds.

Q: How many birds would have to go into an engine to make it fail?
A: One.

I’m not sure if this makes me more comfortable or less.

7 Comments

  • After what has happened to Malaysian Airline Flight MH-370, I have become more skeptical whether flying is the best mode of travel after all! It sure adds to the fear of flying.
    But without flying, how do you get to all those distant/exotic destinations?

      • Not a bad suggestion after all. But I thought getting shipwrecked was a prerequisite to being on a raft …..On second thoughts, a ship-wreck is anytime preferred over a plane crash. Or that is what Kate Winslet have us believe after the Titanic disaster.
        Ask the pilot before every take off, ” Sir, do you have any suicidal tendencies?

        • Ship-wreck over plane crash? Absolutely. If you get stuck in a life raft with a tiger, you could write a book about it.

  • The fate of the missing Malaysian Airline flight MH-370 further confounds my fear of flying..

  • I am with you: no matter how much I’ve flown, I am a nervous flyer. Great questions and perspectives. I recently posted about a book I read (named “Ask the Pilot”, for real!) that answered some similar questions and provided other neat insights in general from the point of view of a pilot. Pretty neat read.

    • Sometimes I wonder if knowing more or less is better. Tomorrow I am cycling / ferrying to Japan because I don’t want to fly.

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