EasyJet Luton visit

During our three week break between the basic and intermediate phases, EZMP01 had an exciting opportunity to spend two days at the EasyJet headquarters at London Luton airport to help increase our commercial awareness and teach us more about the airline. The visit had been scheduled to happen this month since we began the course last year, and it certainly didn’t disappoint! We drove down on Monday morning and after battling with the hideous traffic on the M1, we arrived at the ‘EasyJet Academy’ for a 9am start. The academy is based on site at Luton just around the corner from the airline headquarters (known as ‘Hangar 89’) and is used for various meetings, interviews, and the training of new recruits and current employees. It features a number of classrooms (named ‘Gate 1’ on-wards), as well as training equipment including a full mock-up fuselage used for smoke training and a door and emergency escape slide training rig. After meeting up with our liaison pilots who we have known since day one of the course, we had a quick presentation on EasyJet before collecting our air-side passes to gain access to the ramp area.

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The waiting area at Hangar 89, featuring EasyJets new Recaro seats

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Two of the aircraft on the ramp

After catching the bus to the terminal, we began our tour of hangar 89 with a look at the Luton Crew Room. This is where crew (both pilots and cabin crew) meet and prepare for their flights, so we were taken through how to access the EasyJet system and retrieve a flight plan which we then ran through in detail (for a flight from Luton to Amsterdam). The flight plan was much more substantial than I expected and was made up of information on the route, fuel and timing, NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen), weather and accurate winds, as well as a map of the route. Pilots will print off the flight plans for all of their flights that day and return them at the end of the day when the flights are complete. We also spoke to some pilots who were discussing their flight to Amsterdam, and had a talk with the base captain about what we can expect during our first year at the airline.  The crew room also contained the crew lounge, where we were told that the dreaded airport standby takes place! After a decent lunch at Hanger 89, arguably the most exciting part of the day began… the aircraft visit! Upon clearing security, we were swiftly transported to G-EZUN, an A319 that had just returned from Amsterdam and that was due to be out of use for the remainder of the day. However, it’s not always plain sailing in the airline world, and following a bird strike on another aircraft, UN was quickly enlisted to pick up the service to Lisbon. Despite this, we still had time to have a good look around the aircraft before the crew arrived to prepare for the flight. We each had a sit down and tour of the flight-deck, and due to us completing our basic phase in the A320 simulator it all seemed very familiar indeed! We had a good look around the rest of the aircraft, before being shown the pre-flight walkaround (a visual check of the aircraft) by the first officer who himself finished CTC last year. It is great to see so many CTC cadets now working at the airline!

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G-EZUN flight deck

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G-EZUN rear galley

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The standard engine pod picture!

After finishing off our tour of the A319, it was soon time for us to return to Hangar 89 for a tour of the OCC (Operations Control Centre), which is essentially the hub of the entire operation. It is here that schedules are formed, crew rosters are made, flight plans are created and, crucially, where the entire network is monitored and controlled from. There are support staff at a number of ‘pods’ covering each base on the network, and they are at the end of the phone to sort out any issues that may arise throughout the day. A number of tools are used to monitor aircraft en-route and on the ground and if, for example, an aircraft diverts, the team in the OCC will be planning what needs to happen next even before the aircraft has landed (i.e. organising coaches to transport passengers to their original destination). Although everyone was hard at work, the team made time to show us a number of key elements that make up the OCC. We were shown how flight plans are made, how aircraft are positioned and flights scheduled to account for delays, and how aircraft technicalities are dealt with. Interestingly, we were able to see how the birdstrike earlier in the day had affected the flying schedule and the actions that OCC had put in place to mitigate any delays. It was so interesting to see the OCC, as it was our first insight into what really makes the company tick. I for one had no idea just how much goes on behind the scenes to get the passengers to where they need to be! We finished the day by returning to the academy and checking into our hotel, before meeting for a meal at a local restaurant. We were joined by our liaison pilots, and it was great to talk about the company and the career over dinner. The second day started at 9am and included two main presentations; the first looking at the financial side of the airline, and the second focusing on the route structure and ticket pricing. We looked in depth at the financial make-up of the company and exactly where the airline makes (and spends) it’s money, as well as looking at how tickets are priced, how new routes are chosen and how the airline ensures routes are profit-making whilst still delivering fantastic value to customers. The presentations were hugely beneficial and I learnt a lot about how the airline operates and how decisions are made within the business. These talks are usually only given when you receive recurrent training, so to receive such interesting and relevant information on the business side of the operation before we have even started is a huge advantage which definitely helps our commercial awareness. During the day, we were also presented with our new epaulettes featuring our first ‘bar’, signifying the end of the basic phase of the MPL course. As you can see below, these epaulettes have been updated with the new brand identity of CTC!

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OCC – the hub of the entire airline!

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One of the fleet getting serviced below in the hangar

As I’m sure you can see from my ramblings above, the visit was hugely enjoyable and if it is even possible, I am now more excited than ever to start working for the airline in January! Everyone we met seemed so passionate about the airline, and there is a real sense of community and teamwork. For example, it was great to hear that Carolyn McCall herself (who we saw both at the hangar and the academy) helps the crew clean the aircraft during the short turnarounds when she is onboard. The trip has not just taught me more about the airline itself but also the industry as a whole, in particular on the business and financial side of things. I’d like to say a big thanks to our liaison pilots Simon and Mark, as well as all the staff at EasyJet and CTC who made the trip happen! Funnily enough, the next time we will visit Luton will be for our airline induction in mid-January, so we really are onto the final straight now. From next week, we will be at the beginning of our Intermediate phase which starts with our A320 technical ground school (which means it’s time to hit the books again!). Following this, there are just 28 more simulator sessions before our license skills test.

The end is well and truly in sight. Thank you for reading, speak to you again in a few weeks!

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Out with the old, in with the new. Another step closer!

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Another step closer – Basic Phase Complete

Only nine weeks have passed since we moved out of our house at Bournemouth to begin the Basic Phase here at Nursling, and already we have reached the end of the phase after having spent an incredible 120 hours in the Airbus A320 simulator. There has been a lot of work to complete, but in my spare time at the start of the phase I made a video of our five week Bournemouth Phase which you can watch below.

The basic phase is our first and biggest module of training in the Airbus A320, comprising of twenty-nine simulator details each made up of 1.3 hours pilot flying, 1.3 hours pilot monitoring and 1.3 hours pilot observing, which is slightly more time than is usually required at this basic phase (other courses do not include pilot observing time). However, having the chance to observe each lesson as well as fly it from both the left and right hand seats has proved to be a real positive as it gives each of us time just to watch the detail back, which is great for consolidating the lesson objectives and for ironing out any trouble areas. We are crewed in groups of three and each detail begins with a 90min brief and ends with a quick debrief. Because the simulators at CTC run 24/7 there is a range of reporting times, from 4.30am to the late 8.30pm (which means finishing at 2/3am)! I am very glad to have a variety of report times because it is exactly this style of roster that we will experience at EasyJet.

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Leaving the training centre at 2.30am after a route flight from Heathrow to Glasgow and back

At first glance, such a quick transition from flying propeller aircraft to flying the Airbus simulator seemed like a formidable challenge, but after just a matter of weeks we are now completing flights confidently using the EasyJet SOPs (standard operating procedures) and handling various emergencies as a multi-crew operation. The fact that we all feel so confident with the aircraft already is a real testament to the way the MPL training is delivered, and is largely down to the fact that the entire of the basic phase consists of hands-on manual flying with very limited use of autopilot. Despite the relatively short time frame, the pace is actually pretty relaxed and the increasing complexity of the simulator details is quite gradual. The phase started with a few lessons on general handling, before bringing in instrument flying techniques (some new, some previously covered in the core phase) such as holding, non-precision and precision approaches, SID/STARS (standard instrument arrivals and departures), circling approaches and much more. It felt good to apply these skills on an aircraft as big as the A320, and it’s fair to say that the main thing to get used to has been just how much quicker everything happens in this aircraft. Before long, we moved onto the Boeing 737 for two asymmetric handling (flying on one engine) and upset recovery flights before returning to the A320 for more upset recovery and a number of engine failure details. After a short break, we completed our week long CRM course, before returning to the simulator for lessons covering autoflight and route flying. CRM, which stands for crew resource management, is a huge part of aviation training and “focuses on interpersonal communication, leadership, and decision making in the cockpit”. It essentially focuses on the ‘people skills’ that are needed to operate successfully in todays flight decks, and we have been taught a number of tools and concepts which we will take forward to us into the airline.

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CTCs 737-800 full motion simulator, which we flew for upset recovery and asymmetric flight

Each flight has also covered various A320 systems, from the various control laws and it’s protection systems to aids which help us in everyday flight such as the flight path vector and flight directors. Despite looking at these systems already, as mentioned earlier the entire phase has consisted of manual flying with autopilot only being used when briefing (such as in the cruise on our route flights), and the majority has been ‘raw data’, meaning that automation tools such as the flight directors have been off. The majority of the technical aspects of the aircraft will be covered in the Intermediate phase, but one thing that we have already come to realise is just how many seemingly small features there are which make flying it safer and in some cases, easier than older commercial aircraft.

The phase culminated this week with our competency assurance flight which is a chance for us to put together the majority of the skills we have learnt over the phase into one flight. This CA flight is essentially the MPL equivalent of a traditional Instrument Rating exam, as both cover a number of the same procedures and flying techniques. Thankfully, all of us passed the CA flight which saw each of us fly one of three possible routes. My flight consisted of a setup and departure from Liverpool with a short en-route section to Birmingham where we joined the holding pattern and flew an NDB (non-directional beacon) procedural approach and go-around. For those who are unaware of what exactly this means, a procedural approach essentially consists of a number of steps which get you onto the final approach path for a runway. The use of an NDB makes this a non-precision approach, and shown below is the actual NDB procedural approach I flew on my CA flight. It is a relatively straight forward procedure which, after flying over the beacon (usually after flying the holding pattern), requires you to fly an outbound track to 7.0D (7 nautical miles from the IBM DME) before turning inbound to track 325 inbound to begin the descent at 5.1D. On the CA flight, the visibility was below minima which meant that we could not continue the approach and a go-around had to be performed. Despite the amount of times go-arounds come up in the tabloids as “dangerous and unusual events,” they are very routine and we get a lot of practice at them throughout our training. After performing a go-around, we were given an engine fire to deal with and, after completing our ECAM* drills we were radar vectored for a single engine ILS (instrument landing system) approach and landing. It was a very busy flight, but it felt good to complete it and bring together all of the skills we have been learning throughout the phase.

*Oh yes, ECAM stands for ‘electronic centralised aircraft monitor’ which in an engine failure situation lists system failures and statuses, and displays the checklists which must be completed to correct the problem. Sorry for all the acronyms!

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It’s hard to narrow the past nine weeks down and choose a favourite part, but I have really enjoyed flying the procedures like the one shown above – I had come across these types of plates before starting the course but had no idea of what they meant! Now however, they seem very straight-forward and easy to follow and after seeing a Thomson 737 coming in to land at Birmingham on my drive home this week, I had to remind myself that I had just flown the exact approach they were flying! I have also really enjoyed getting to grips with circling approaches, and I’m very glad that we have had a chance to fly the Boeing 737 as well as the A320. However, by far the very best thing about the phase has been all of the manual flying time we have received in this magnificent aircraft! This is the main advantage to the MPL route, as compared to a short type-rating course we get much more time to fly the aircraft in a basic hands on format, enabling us to feel confident in flying it just like a ‘conventional’ aircraft before adding in the plethora of automatics.

So, now that we have finished the basic phase, the next steps are the shorter ‘Intermediate’ and ‘Advanced’ phases, at the end of which will see us finally starting at EasyJet. After a well earned break, we will return for the intermediate phase in a couple of weeks starting with the completion of our A320 technical ground school. After this is complete, we have a further four weeks (13 lessons) in the simulator covering a number of new subjects, in particular ‘non-normal’ and adverse weather operations. The phase also includes more upset recovery, route flying and introduces the full version of the EasyJet SOPs (the basic phase SOPs are slightly diluted in places which are not covered in the simulators) and from now on all of our simulator details are with full motion switched on. After that is complete, we will arrive at the ‘advanced phase’ – our final phase of training at CTC which finishes off with our License Skills Test where we will finally achieve the dream of gaining our Multi-crew Pilots License. It is all getting very close, as we already have our starting dates at EasyJet and we will soon find out where we will be based! Crazy that this time last year I was writing about my module one ATPL mock exams…

I will be sure to keep you updated on how the following phases are going. As usual, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me. Thanks for reading!

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On the gate at Heathrow!