Questions I get asked as a pilot (2)

This week was quite interactive for me, finally! My website and my blog have been getting more correspondence lately, and I have to say I am delighted.

Tonight's post comes as a continuation of last week's, since the feedback has been positive and I got asked a few questions that I will address in this post and over the coming posts

+Atharv Khatod asked me "How often do you fly a month?"

Blocks, the origin of the term Block Time
This has to be an "It's all relative" answer, personally, I work for an airline that has suffered of a shortage of pilots over the last years and this year things are finally stabilizing. Regulation vary by region and by airline and in many cases according to union contracts.

Pilots are usually credit by the block hours, roughly meaning from the time the "blocks" are removed and the aircraft starts moving and engines are started to the time the aircraft stops and "blocks" are inserted around the wheels.

My outfit follows the maximum of 900 Block Hours a year, but -unlike a misguided executive in our company once wrongly assumed- this does not equal 900/365= 2.45 hours a day!

First we are allowed 8 days off a month, in 12 months this is 96 days free of duty in addition to 36 days of annual leave. This means we get 132 days free of duty per year, so we should be able to operate for 233 days a year. This is the at the extremely low end for airlines. Most airlines guarantee anywhere from 140-190 days free of duty per year, some airlines are known to have guaranteed 243 days.

A block hour is not an accurate indicator of how much you get to work, on a regular day you start working an hour or more prior to the flight's time of departure, which is the time you need to conduct briefings for your fellow crew and to check the flight plan and your planned route and the weather forecasts. Sometimes your flight gets delayed due to many reasons, maybe there is some congestion at the airport or maybe there is a shortage of the necessary equipment to get you moving. Also, you usually have to perform a few post-flight duties as well.

Therefore, the industry came up with another method of measuring work hours, the Duty Time. Anytime you are required by your outfit to report for a duty a timer starts and it ends when you have no more duties to perform, this is therefore more representative of your actual effort. My airline allows a maximum of 190 duty hours in any 28 consecutive days and 60 duty hours in any seven consecutive days, these are basic requirements of the European Regulators.

Americans do things a bit differently, their maximum is 1000 hours a year but have different ways to calculate their monthly maximums.

A pilot in my airline will be in one of three major groups (fleets), since pilots can only fly one set of airplanes at a time.
  • We have the wide-body fleet which can manage to fly the maximum while doing three flights a month which are long-haul by definition, and so get to spend a greater deal of time at their homes, and a greater number of days abroad. They can expect anywhere from 4-10 days abroad and a minimum of 16-18 days free of duty every month. They usually fly a single sector each duty, sometimes they fly 2 in a short-turnaround. The average sector length is around 8 hours.
  • Next comes the narrow-body fleet with their short-to-medium-haul which allows for a higher number of duty days and sectors but with a variety of turnarounds and night-stops and layovers. They can expect 2-6 days abroad and 10-14 free of duty a month. They can also expect to do more than two sectors in certain situations, but usually two is the norm. The average sector length is around 3 hours.
  • The Regional Jet is the last group in our airline, these are the toughest jobs to do, they fly many short sectors, fly back-to-back sectors and sometimes fly up to 5 or rarely 6 sectors in a single duty. The can expect a couple of night-stops a month usually for a couple of hours a night and they get around 8-10 days free of duty a month. The average sector length is around 1 hour.

Finally, I can say I get to spend more free time in Amman than most professionals I know, the fact that it's sometimes on the backside of the clock is more due to my bidding and requests than my profession. However, most professionals I know can clear their schedules on short notice for important engagements that arise, that's not my case. 

I still wouldn't trade it for the world

Do you have any questions you would like a professional pilot to answer, if so, contact me: 
+Radi Radi  
[email protected]  


Top Questions I get asked as a pilot (1)

Every pilot has their own list of top questions they get asked whenever people know they are pilots. I have received my fair share of those questions and I wish I could just post a FAQ and have people look at it instead of having at me. Hey, that's an idea:

Don't you get scared? Despite how many times statistics prove that air transport is the safest mode for travel, people still associate pilots with airline accident and crashes. There are valid reasons, people rarely get to see the positive side of when things go pear-shaped.

I have not seen any coverage in Arabic networks of the SouthWest 737 in LaGuardia, because while the nose wheel assembly collapsed, people rarely get to see when a crash landing lets all the passengers walk away and the fatality count is 0.

However when people die the coverage in the media multiplies exponentially, and therefore airplane coverage is synonymous in our region with crashes and fatalities.

An average airline pilot's training is so detailed and intensive and maintenance is so exhaustive and thorough that I feel confident that we are in a safe profession. In my airline, it takes a great deal of hard work and practice and you get subjected to a number of training program that allow you to be proficient well before the need arises. Most of the time, I am never even bothered by operating a flight, yet still, some times its a tasking and stressful job.

Do airplanes have horns? This is one of the more humorous questions I get asked, and for the first few times I couldn't help but laugh when I got asked. It shows how little the general public know about our profession, and I always marvelled at what use would a horn be. Definitely not for collision avoidance, no one would be able to hear it, for one thing, and even if we did it would be too close. We have special equipment that show us where other traffic is and we have Air Traffic Controllers to keep us separate.

It won't help with scaring away animals or birds, if the animal isn't afraid of the noise of your engine, a honk won't help. The public, however, tends to draw comparisons between driving cars and flying planes and they can't seem to stop it.

Yes, however, we do have a horn, we use it to summon ground crew, because you can't expect them to be connected to the aircraft all the time since they have other duties. It usually is located in the nose-wheel well area.

It sounds something like this in Boeings:

Do you have any questions you would like a professional pilot to answer, if so, email me: +Radi Radi  [email protected] or 


14,000 Miles Through The Air

Once in awhile, you run into an out of copyright book that you haven't heard of before and that is worth reading, this time the book was 14,000 Miles Through The Air by Ross Macpherson Smith. Sir Ross is an aerial ace, a pioneer pilot and the first Australian in a British aircraft to fly from London to Australia thereby winning 10,000 pounds, this book is about the adventure he partook with his brother Sir Keith and their mechanics.

The book takes you through 135 hours of flying in 28 days -illegal in my modern day career- and covering 11,060 miles. There are also the trials and tribulations from landing in newly created aerodromes to taking-off from atop of Bamboo mats.

The book is fascinating not only because of the pioneer spirit that exudes from the authors words, but also because it gives a glimpse into the history of aviation and the history of their route.

The flight had 24 stops along the route, most notably for me was their stops in Cairo, Damascus, Ramadie and Basra. In between these ancient cities were overflights of Gaza, Jerusalem and the River Jordan with Medjdel Airport having a notable mention as a previous post for Ross. Aerial photography and film survive from that flight, some of the Pyramids, some of the Suez Canal, some of Jordan River, and  contrast we can spot. Australian Screen provides us with this video:

The city in the beginning is Gaza after the first World War, then we see the snake that was the river Jordan, and later is the crew of the Vimy photographed in front of their machine in Ramadie, Iraq.

Looking up on the interwebs I found a flight from London Heathrow -different from Hounslow Heath Aerodrome as Sir Ross called it in the book- to Darwin with a single stopover in Singapore, it takes 19 hours 35 minutes to get there. Meaning that, less than an a century after the 1919 flight- commercial travel is now more than 30 times faster than private travel was in the heydays of aviation. Not to mention the difference in the ride.

They flew Vickers Vimy which -true to its era- a bomber with little facilities either to accommodate passengers or to help pilots navigate or even relief them from their duties.

The same aircraft is still preserved in Adelaide, Australia, the terminal destination for the Smith brothers

I strongly recommend this book if you have an interest in travel blogs or journals, or in the early days of visual aviation. I got the book on my kindle and it was out of copyright so I got it for free, it is around 250 pages of good post-victorian description.


What to write..

For some reason I keep insisting on blogging and writing, although this blog has proven time and again that consistency is not my strongest virtue, but something always itches me to keep writing.

For today, I will not attempt to divulge some great thesis or dissect some new theory, but I will however attempt to talk a little bit about my beloved Jordan.

Any follower of the news should marvel at how Jordan managed to sniff a breeze from the "Arab spring" and expel all the negative effects of it. The demonstrations reached a few thousands but then calmed down again, though in certain parts of the country, they are still adamant if not large or numerous.

Why did Jordan manage to maintain its cool while the map around it is annoyingly bothersome? The borders of Jordan include Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Israel. If you have ever watched the news, you will know that the "neighbourhood" isn't very friendly. If you expand the radius a couple of hundred miles then Lebanon and Egypt come in focus which isn't good news either.

Yet somehow the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Jordan aren't mobilising like their counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia, the liberals and the leftists have no foothold in politics like in Syria and Lebanon and Iran's operatives in Jordan are, if anything, useless.

There are a number of theories I heard recently and all have valid points:

  1. Complacency: People in Jordan don't object to the status quo so much. Sure, they would like better incomes and more freedom, maybe even an election that doesn't smell or that lets you choose a Prime Minister or the Mayor of Amman, but if the price to get those thing is civil unrest for years like Egypt or even a war like Syria or Libya, then thanks, but no thanks.
  2. Lack of organization: Other than the MB, there is no other party that has any sort of popular base that can lead in any post-revolutionary government. Jordan has few if any exiled dissidents, and pragmatically speaking, the leadership was smart enough to allow all types of qualified people some role in government in its many changes and reiterations. The other backbone of political organisation which is organised labor in all its forms, is either nonexistent or again in the hand of MB. Who will ever lead in a situation of civil disobedience or revolution? I can't think of anyone

    People also look at the outcome of elections in Jordan and they can't help but be discouraged. MPs are either elected because of a tribal or ethnic setting or because of some financial setup that allows him or her to "acquire" votes based on immediate or future compensation for the electorate.
  3. Divide and rule: The population is so used to racism that any talk of any regime change or "Constitutional Democracy" will almost certainly result in the same response. A shameful exhibition of who will rule? Will the Palestinians accept an East-Banker to rule? Will the Southerners accept a person from the North to rule? Don't you know how people in Jordan are?
In conclusion, I don't know how long people will wait till reform comes to Jordan, but it seems to me that people aren't in a rush to see anything changed.

Peace, Out