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Are You Ready To Be A Wide-Body Aircraft Pilot?

The enormous planes take everyone’s attention at the airport. They even capture the attention of pilots alike. Have you been working towards piloting one of these big boys? The growing demand for passenger flights leads airlines to expand their fleet with the new wide-body aircraft. However, this means the wide-body aircraft pilot demand is also on the rise. Do you have what it takes?

Flight demands of the future

There is no question this colossal aircraft segment is growing. International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts 4.2% of annual passenger growth and a market of 4.8 billion passengers by 2027. As you can imagine, the demand for pilots are on the rise and it’s a great time to start your aviation career.

Boeing forecast states that the wide-body segment calls for 8,070 new aircraft over the next two decades. This is likely due to the large wave of replacements from the likes of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and 777X. As it is, airlines are already expanding their fleets to meet the increasing rise in passenger numbers.

Do you have the experience?

As you can imagine, bigger aircraft requires more experience. According to aviation safety regulations, to operate one narrow-body aircraft, 10-12 pilots are needed. While for the wide-body aircraft, airlines must have at least 16 pilots. For those of you dreaming of flying a wide-body aircraft, experience is vital in getting your chance. We are specifically referring to the number of flight hours in your log book. The difference between a short-haul flight and a long-haul flight have everything to do with your logged flight hours. The hours on a certain aircraft type are just as important as the number of total flight hours.

Each airline will have their own requirements, but usually a captain needs at least 1,500-2,000 hours of flight experience on a certain type of aircraft. The first office needs a minimum of 500 hours. Again, your total flight hours are also important. A captain is required to have at least 3,500 – 5,000 hours total logged. While the first officer needs to have at least 1,500 – 3,000 hours. Keep in mind, the ability to operate a wide-body aircraft means greater pilot experience as well as responsibility. As a result, long-haul pilots are paid more.

As for skill, teamwork will be most important. On an aircraft of this size, it will take a large crew to work together. Communication is vital. Not just communication between pilots, but communication between the flight crew, dispatcher, ground handling staff and passengers.

The Crew

Wide-body jets (220+ seats is standard) can fly more than 15 hours non-stop. Therefore, these are primarily used for longer range non-stop domestic and intercontinental routes. A long-haul flight takes 8-11 hours and its phases are long, so more than one regular crew is required in the cockpit.

Any flights that last longer than 11 hours will require two full crews. In this case, crew “A” prepares the aircraft for the flight and implements the departure procedure. The crew “B” pilot duo takes over the aircraft control once the cruise phase begins. Usually, the airlines schedule the return flight the next day and the same two crews fly back to the home base. On the second day the crews will switch responsibility, with crew “B” staring the flight and crew “A” taking over in the cruise phase. This procedure is planned to avoid pilot fatigue issues.

Long-haul vs. Short-haul flights

The description is fairly straightforward. Typically, newly-qualified pilots will carry out short-haul operations at the start of their career. This will give a new pilot exposure to the operation and familiarity with the timing of the procedures. Since all the procedures happen quickly over a short period of time, the timing is very important. However, the timing with long-haul flights is completely different. The flight planning alone takes around 2 hours, the aircraft boarding is much longer, and the destination is 2-3 times further.

A pilot who flies in a short-haul makes several flights per day and returns home in the evening. Obviously that is not the case for a pilot who flies in a long-haul. Accordingly, the aviation safety requirements for them are different. Long-haul pilots will generally get more days off per month due to restrictions on days off after duty. In fact, under EASA regulations, some destinations that have large time differences will require four local nights back at the home base just to readjust time zones before you can report for duty again.

Both types of flights have pros and cons. Pilots who have both narrow-body and wide-body type rating qualifications can switch and perform both short-haul and long-haul flights. Switching the two is very useful for pilots as they go through different types of operations of these flights. And keep in mind, the more experience, the higher the pay in most cases. So, which will you choose?