Could a NON-PILOT land an airliner?

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Could a NON-PILOT land an airliner?

#1

Post by howie » Fri Jul 13, 2018 9:05 am

There are probably a fair number of people who like to imagine that if they were on board a jetliner and the flight crew became incapacitated, then they could jump up and save the day.

‘After all,’ they think, ‘I’m good at Microsoft Flight Simulator and, well, how hard can it be?’

The answer, it turns out, is extremely hard, according to those in the know – actual airline pilots.

A debate on this subject has been rumbling along on Quora after a user posed the question: ‘If you were on a plane and both pilots died, you're put into the pilots seat and an air traffic controller is talking you through landing the plane, do you think you could actually land it?’

A Dreamliner captain MailOnline Travel spoke to said a member of the public would have ‘no chance’ of landing a jetliner.

That’s the short answer.

Other pilots have been wading in and explaining in detail just how hard it is to land one – even for those with pilot training, let alone newcomers to the job.

One such pilot is Jeremy Harris, who flies A320s.

He wrote: ‘Most people would have no idea how to operate the radio to even talk to someone on the ground. Cabin crew are not trained to use a radio, so most of them would be no use.

‘You don’t have an unlimited amount of fuel and it’s unlikely that there would be a great deal more than the amount required to complete the scheduled flight safely. You however, will obviously require a lot more time to figure things out and therefore more fuel.

‘Air traffic controllers are not pilots. Most of them only have the most elementary understanding of what even makes an aircraft fly, let alone how to operate one. In the scenario described, a type rated instructor would have to be found at short notice and make their way to the control center. That would take a lot of time… And time is fuel, remember.

‘If you needed to reprogram the FMGC (flight management & guidance computer) to divert to an alternate airport and you made a serious data entry error, there’s no way someone on the ground can see that… If you disconnected the autopilot inadvertently, no one on the ground would know. By the time they realized, you probably will have got into an unrecoverable situation.’

Airline pilot Anas Maaz also added his tuppence-worth, explaining that even though he is a trained pilot on small planes, he would have problems landing large jetliners.

He wrote: ‘I have almost 1,500 hours of flight experience and almost all of them as an airline pilot. To get things in order I fly Dash 8s. An incredibly powerful aircraft for its size.

‘In my flight school training I used to fly a Cessna 150 and it was the primary aircraft I flew in. I took my multi-engine training in a Piper Seneca 2.

‘As Dash 8 pilot, I can fly that aircraft in an emergency with very little issues. I cannot guarantee that I could bring an A320 or a B737 to the ground as safe and sound. This takes me to the next point. Just because a person flies a large aircraft does not mean he could fly a smaller aircraft with ease.

The mechanical and avionic systems on a modern commercial jet can be very complex, but anyone with some piloting experience should be able to handle at least the basics of flying and take you down reasonably safely
‘I know a story of a previous jet pilot who smashed a Dash 8 onto the ground on his first ever line flight in the aircraft. He landed so hard that one of the main wheels of the aircraft shot through the wings.

‘Moral of the story is every aircraft is different. That is why you need extra training and type ratings when you are going to fly a new airplane. You cannot apply the same flight principles to all aircraft because all of them are different.’

‘Ks Vasan’, meanwhile, an ex-Air Force veteran, is quite optimistic about a passenger landing an airline – as long as they have some training as a pilot.

He wrote: ‘The mechanical and avionic systems on a modern commercial jet can be very complex, but anyone with some piloting experience should be able to handle at least the basics of flying and take you down reasonably safely.

‘Also to be noted, this is an emergency situation and the passenger pilot who gets catapulted into this unusual situation does not need to concern himself with too many… non-critical functions or activities in the cockpit, but just concentrate on the bare essentials - the minimum controls/functions necessary to get the plane down on to the nearest airfield.

‘And those will be - layout of the control yoke, and rudder pedals, location of three or four important instruments like altimeter, air speed indicator, and maybe the engine instruments, location of engine throttles/control levers, flaps may be useful, wheel brakes to stop the plane after it touches down.’

For the last word on this, we’ll turn away from the thread to pilot Patrick Smith, author of Cockpit Confidential, who devoted a section of his book to the subject of whether a non-pilot could land a plane – and he isn’t at all hopeful overall.



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Re: Could a NON-PILOT land an airliner?

#2

Post by Propnut » Fri Jul 13, 2018 12:18 pm

Well now, to this I disagree. I have over 4000 flight simulator hours on mainly propeller types, not a lot on jets in my Microsoft years. I find the jets too fast for my pensionable brain, so a DC-3 suits me just great, and yes I can also handle Sperry instrumentation. Just on 1000 hours were on-line flights under IVAO control with full ATC both in South Africa, Europe and the USA. Could I as a NON-PILOT land an airliner - NO.

BUT having qualified my statement, here is the anomaly. While Chairman of the Durban Flight Simulation Group my main focus was to get home bound sim pilots to experience real time ATC flying in a controlled airspace. Part of the training was navigation in IFR conditions. One member of our group was John Howard an almost retired Civil Engineer. John progressed from props to jets and ended up in IVAO management covering South African airspace. John was the only member to write and fly the PPL (Virtual) license and continue to obtain his ATP (Virtual) license. John has flown thousands of hours on line under conditions of ATC airspace.

For his birthday two years ago his wife gave him some time in the Comair B737-800 simulator in Kempton Park. You can imagine the look on the Captains face when he asked John what his experience was. Oh, no another flight simmer. His first shock came when John requested touch and go's at FAOR. After programming in the flight and weather requirements the instructor bent forward to program the FMC. John said no it is OK - I will do it. That was when the whole atmosphere changed on the flight deck.

Two hours soon went into overtime as there was no training after John's slot. The final nail in the subject line of this thread came when John suffered an engine failure on a FAOR to FALE leg that the instructor threw in unannounced. I leave you to think what went through the instructors mind when successfully landed the 737-800 in Durban. I may add that the instructor said that he would have John in the right seat any day. Another thing that impressed the instructor was the fact that in flying on IVAO the pilot has to do all the radio work on top of the normal pilot load as there is nobody sitting next to him to handle the radio and change frequencies.

So I do know of at least one simulation pilot from first hand experience that just may be the passenger that can save your life. I also know that John enjoyed his Comair simulation that he did go back for a second trip, but that is a story for another day.



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Re: Could a NON-PILOT land an airliner?

#3

Post by Bell 407 » Fri Jul 13, 2018 1:30 pm

It really is an interesting debate. I agree that Joe Public would not know what to do. But exposure to some sort of flight training, whether through actual of simulated, gives you an idea of what the procedures are and where to look for the common instruments in a cockpit. That would certainly help.

I remember when doing my PPL, that the radio work come very easy to me as I had been exposed to a lot of it in the years before this. I understood the lingo and knew what it was saying. So, when getting into the cockpit and having to talk on the radio for the first time it really was a breeze.



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Re: Could a NON-PILOT land an airliner?

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Post by Propnut » Sat Jul 14, 2018 10:22 am

A few of the members that passed through the sim group eventually went on to get their PPL. The big transition I found in the members was from sim flights on their own to sim flights under ATC control where correct radio procedures were expected. In South Africa they ran a new members night every Thursday for the guys to build up confidence in their radio procedures. It also taught them that you cannot just start at the end of any runway and take off. You followed ATC instructions from requesting start-up in your Cessna 152 through to the B747.

Planning flights also became a new experience when flying online. Unless your flight plan was correctly filled in it would be rejected. You would have to correct it and amend your departure time as now you had to deal with other aircraft also wanting to take off. The paperwork to some members was a daunting task as the correct airways and routing had to also be passed by ATC, so you were required to be in possession of the correct NavAir tables for the area you wanted to fly from and to.

Finally weather. Flying online comes with real weather conditions at airports and en-route to your destination, wind and barometric pressures, varying cloud types (up to three levels) and accurate jet stream winds. No good flying to FACT if there is a CATIII landing restriction and you are a VFR pilot.

I had 30 years of fascinating virtual flights starting by myself alone on a chair at the dining room table and ending with the ability to fly online in any part of the world under controlled airspace in any weather conditions. In the real world though as a NON-PILOT, I could NOT land an airliner, but I would be happy to work the radios.



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