THE FLIGHTDECK • April 2019
Whether he’s flying around the Shard or through the northern lights, Alistair Black has seen a decade’s worth of sights as a pilot on the Airbus A320. We speak to the Gatwick-based British Airways Captain to find out what it takes to get to the cockpit
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a pilot
My Dad was a pilot, so growing up it was very normal for me to see him putting on his uniform and heading off to exotic places for a few days at a time. I remember sitting on the flight deck jump seat when I was small and just being in awe. From then on, I was determined to become a pilot.
It’s all about good workload management.
Communication skills, a bit of hand eye co-ordination and some basic maths are needed, but workload management is key to becoming a successful pilot. The role frequently involves being presented with different requests, demands and distractions, and the skill to prioritise tasks and delegate is critical. After all of the extensive training, the flying of the aircraft actually becomes the easiest and generally most enjoyable of all the tasks.
The terms Captain and co-pilot relate to rank, not role
The Captain sits in the left hand seat and has ultimate responsbility for all decision making and consequences, but the actual flying of the aircraft is a 50/50 split between Captain and co-pilot, rather than the Captain doing all of the flying as many believe. The basic rule is, when one pilot is flying, the other is monitoring – roles which are frequently swapped.
Spot the captain: Alistair runs routine checks before take-off
Do I love my job?
The easy answer is yes. I consider myself very lucky to hold a job I really enjoy. There might be careers that are better rewarded financially and don’t involve setting alarms for 3am, but this is compromised against the job satisfaction. Every day is different, presenting unique challenges from the flying to the management of the cabin. Plus, I get to work with excellent colleagues and see some amazing sights.
And my favourite ever destination?
Peru. Some years ago my wife and I spent three weeks touring around Peru and it is definitely a travel highlight of my life so far. We completed the Inca trail and visited Machu Picchu, took a small boat down the Amazon and stayed in the rainforest surrounded by nature. We found the people to be incredibly friendly and approachable, and – though food wasn’t the strong point – it’s where I had the best steak of my life.
My favourite airport to land at is…
Heathrow. In particular, when flying into westerly runways 27L and 27R. The approach generally involves turning around the Shard, then descending over the sights of London. There are very few places in the world where we fly as close to the capital as we do on the approach into Heathrow. It also means I’m heading home.
The view out of our ‘office window’ is always stunning
The stars we get to see without the light pollution on quiet night flights is amazing – I love looking at the vast Milky Way and really large storm cells. We always avoid these, but seeing them from the air is very different from the ground. They flash away, before fork lightening bursts from the top in excess of 40,000ft high. However, my all-time favourite view must be the northern lights. We don’t often see them, so the times we do are always memorable.
My favourite plane has to be the Jaguar
I completed my initial basic flying training through the RAF and the University Air Squadron while I was at University and was lucky enough to be able to fly in a Jaguar during that time. Completing a low level flight through the hills at high speed is a memory and thrill I’ll never forget. Beyond that, I think the iconic Concorde and Jumbo (Boeing 747) are both pretty special.
A top tip for anyone flying into Gatwick?
Thanks to the runway configuration, those driving home from the airport northbound towards the M25 should try and sit on the right hand side of the aircraft, and the left hand side for those heading southbound towards Brighton. As we descend, you can look out to see how the traffic is looking for your journey home – and think up an alternative route if needs be!