Behind the Scenes With Pilots of an A380

A380 pilots Emirates Lufthansa Qantas Singapore Airlines © Emirates / Lufthansa / Qantas / Singapore Airlines
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to fly a superjumbo jet? Here four A380 pilots from Emirates, Lufthansa, Qantas and Singapore Airlines share their experiences of navigating this giant of the skies.
Ali Kashwani A380 captain Emirates © Emirates
Ali Kashwani, A380 captain, Emirates
Stefan Thilo Schmidt A380 captain Lufthansa © Lufthansa
Stefan Thilo Schmidt, A380 captain, Lufthansa
David Holt A380 technical pilot Qantas © Qantas
David Holt, A380 technical pilot, Qantas
BK Chin A380 captain Singapore Airlines © Singapore Airlines
BK Chin, A380 captain, Singapore Airlines

What is it like to fly an A380?

Ali: Despite its size, it is extremely responsive and easy to handle. It also has the best stability of any aircraft I’ve ever flown.

BK: It’s a big leap forward from previous generations of aircraft. It has advanced systems such as traffic collision protection and runway over-run warning that enhance the airplane’s reliability, efficiency and, most importantly, safety.  

Stefan: The A380 is surprisingly easy to operate. It’s really a pleasure flying it. It has a number of engineering innovations that compensate for the challenges that come with size, so it’s very powerful yet very agile. Though with a plane that’s 80 meters long and 18 meters wide, you need a big parking space!

How is it different from other aircraft you’ve flown?

David: The defining characteristic of the A380 is its scale. It can comfortably transport 400-500 customers across ultra-long-haul distances and be relied upon to arrive into its destination even in trying circumstances like fog or high winds. The A380 is an engineering achievement that shouldn’t be underestimated. 

Ali: Because of the enormous size of the A380, take-off needs particular attention if the runway is short or narrow. With a maximum weight of more than three blue whales (575 tons), getting off the ground requires a take-off speed of 315 km/h – similar to a Formula 1 race car. So you can imagine the acceleration power during this critical manoeuver, which, while thrilling, demands 100% focus. The A380 is equipped with systems that allow us to calculate the necessary take-off speed very accurately.  

Stefan: I’ve flown quite a lot of different types of aircraft, and I would say that its robustness and dependability as well as its well-designed man–machine interface are all features that make it unique. The aircraft integrates state-of-the-art aeronautics technology such as gust (a sudden blast of wind) load alleviation: the flow change is measured at the nose of the aircraft, before it reaches the wing so the ailerons can adapt and compensate for the bending of the wings during turbulence, giving a much smoother ride than in other large aircraft.

What is a typical day of work?

BK: No two flights are ever alike, but we always begin with a briefing for the crew and a review of our flight documentation, which includes detailed weather charts, the flight plan, the technical status of the aircraft, airport conditions and any other relevant information that may affect the flight.  

Ali: I like to arrive at the aircraft an hour before departure, to give our team – a crew of 24 – enough time to prepare it for the passengers. We verify that all the systems are operating fine and do other safety checks. Once we’re at cruising altitude, the automated systems support us a lot. We need to manually navigate around thunderstorms, so it’s critical to be aware of these as early as possible. The A380 has one of the most advanced radars to detect thunderstorms in the aviation industry – it displays the weather in 3D.

David: When we get underway, we continually monitor flight progress, fuel status and aircraft systems, coordinating with the airline ops center and air traffic control to get optimum cruising levels and routings. We have several pilots allocated for longer flights, allowing us to get some rest in dedicated bunks. About an hour from our destination, we begin to prepare for landing and review the approach procedure for the specific airport and runway. After landing, we have a day to rest before we get to do it all again!

What do you love most about your job?

Stefan: It’s a wonderful job. It’s been 30 years, and it still hasn’t gotten old! You never get bored, there are always different people, different weather, different circumstances – you’re never doing the same thing every day. Passengers might think we’re just there looking out the windscreen, but I would compare it with chess, in which you’re totally engaged, always contemplating your next move and anticipating what might happen. I admit that seeing the beauty of the world is one of the advantages of the job, but your brain is really focused on other things during the flight.

How do you feel about flying the A380?

BK: Singapore Airlines was the first airline to fly the A380. I feel honored to have been one of the first pilots trained to fly it. 

Ali: My dream aircraft is the A380. When it was first launched, I wanted to pilot it one day. I got my chance in 2008. On my very first walk-around to check the aircraft, I was mesmerized by the sheer size of the wings and the engines: everything was on such an immense scale, like something out of science fiction! That feeling of awe is rekindled every time I land or take off and notice all the people taking pictures of the plane!

David: I feel proud to be a Qantas A380 pilot and to play a small role in the success of one of the largest aviation projects in history.  

Stefan: I would miss it if I didn’t fly it. As the A380 is the largest plane in a fleet, it’s the ultimate aircraft to work on. It’s really something special to walk through an airport to the gate with 23 other crew members. It’s between 1.5 and 5 times more than the crew you’d have in another aircraft! People stop and raise their eyebrows in wonder; then they will usually ask, ‘Are you flying an A380?’

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