Aircraft landing using Instrument Landing System (ILS)
As a pilot, I’m often asked, “How do pilots plan flight routes?” My answer is always “Meticulously.” There are numerous factors to consider when planning a flight route, and all safety requirements must be met in order for a route to be approved. And rest assured, regulations are nothing less than stringent when it comes to the safety of flights over vast stretches of land or water.
Let’s take for example an Airbus A330 flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Melbourne, Australia. The total travel distance is approximately 3,500 nautical miles (or about 6,500km), with a flight time of around eight hours, depending on wind conditions at the time of travel.
What does it really take to fly a plane? Is it a gift only bestowed upon a chosen few or is it a skill that can be achieved by anyone?
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Since time immemorial, humans have been intrigued with flying, and nothing idealises this better than the famous Greek myth about Icarus, who flew too close to the sun. Icarus and his father were imprisoned on the island of Crete by the Minotaur, a creature half-man half-bull. In order to escape, Icarus’ father, a skilled craftsman, created a set of wings made of feathers and wax for each of them. He warned his son of the danger of flying too high as the sun’s scorching rays would melt the wax. However, once they took flight, the young man’s desire to fly high in the sky overcame all reason, and as he rose higher and higher, Icarus’ wings melted and he fell to his doom below. The place where he fell in the Mediterranean Sea came to be known as the Icarian Sea.
Flying to high altitude airports offers an opportunity to take in stunning sights but the experience also requires some special training for flight crew operating to these lofty airports.
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AirAsia X is currently training aircrew for charter flights (commencing in December) to Xining Airport, an airfield in China situated at 7,165ft (2,184m) above sea level. The highest altitude airport that the airline presently flies to is located in Kathmandu in Nepal, and it’s only 4,390ft (1,338m) above sea level!
I was recently asked to identify the most difficult aspects of handling a plane. I think a more interesting question would be which of the three main manoeuvres – taxiing, takeoff or landing – is the most challenging.
The truth is that there is no definitive answer; different pilots find each of these three phases of flight challenging in different ways, and this is largely influenced by the pilot’s personal flying experience, the type of aircraft he or she is flying, as well as environmental conditions. In fact, an airline, general aviation or helicopter pilot would justifiably have different views.
From my perspective as an airline pilot, the answer is most certainly the landing aspect of the flight. Let me elaborate on the three phases – taxiing, takeoff and landing – and the unique challenges each poses.
If you like what you read, more stories are found in my book LIFE IN THE SKIES (Preview here) and you can purchase a copy here. To check for any latest updates or postings, you can follow my Twitter at @CaptKHLim or Facebook here