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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Goodbye VFR, hello IFR!

Hello all!

It’s fair to say that EZMP01 have been very busy since my last update. Since I last posted, we have completed all of our solo navigation flights as well as our Competency Assurance test flight. The solo navigation phase was fantastic, and it was great to see more of the North Island whilst developing our flying skills. My solo navigation flights have allowed me to see some amazing places, such as Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe (also known as Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings films), Lake Taupo, Paunui Beach, Cathedral Cove and many more! The phase also has a number of dual flights known as ‘ops routes’ which often allow for two cadets to fly back to back, meaning we can fly further away from Hamilton than we would normally. For myself, this involved a flight through the Auckland Gap and up to Whangerai up towards the top of the North Island and back down to Hamilton via Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel. This has been a great opportunity to see new places and learn new procedures, all whilst being spoilt with some incredible NZ landscapes. For those who don’t know, the Auckland Gap is a thin piece of airspace over Auckland city centre where you can fly without needing a clearance. Below is a picture of us approaching the city which we later flew straight over before heading further north:

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Approaching the ‘Auckland Gap’

In total, we have five ‘ops route’ flights, and it is here where the essence of the MPL really starts to come into play. Essentially, in these lessons our instructors take on a variety of roles; they can be a passenger or client who needs to be at a certain airfield at a certain time, coming to us an hour before the off blocks time with their request. In flight, they can again be the passenger and request for us to divert to another aerodrome due to their changing plans. However, for a lot of the flights the instructors essentially became our co-pilots to get us to start thinking and flying like multi-crew pilots. For example, on my last ops route I flew the busy approach into Ardmore (NZ’s busiest uncontrolled aerodrome) whilst my instructor re-briefed the arrival and departure procedures and handled the radio calls in the circuit. On many of the flights, our instructors also gave us emergency situations en-route and made us initiate a suitable plan of action. Take, for example, a battery discharge: how much time do we have? What can we afford to switch off? When will we lose communications? What airfields can we divert to? It’s all very relevant, and it has been designed to get us thinking and flying like pilots in a commercial environment, as well as making us aware of the pressures and possible situations that we will face whilst at airlines such as EasyJet. It is a great advantage to the MPL course, as not only are we working on building our flying skills at this early phase, but also taking into account multi-crew operation, crew resource management,  flight management, commercial pressures and much more. It has definitely helped to increase my confidence in my ability as a pilot as well as my ability to deal with commercial pressures and emergencies.

For the solo navigation flights we were lucky to have two hours allocated for each flight (allowing us to fly further afield) and we were encouraged to challenge ourselves further on each flight by integrating new practices; be it flying into a new control zone for a touch and go, flying controlled VFR or using challenging waypoints. For me the solo nav flights really helped to pinpoint my ‘problem areas’ and improve not only my general flying skills, but my planning and flight management skills as well as my overall knowledge of the aircraft. We also practiced some general handling exercises on the solo routes, such as the various types of stalls as well as steep turns, practice forced landings, circuit emergencies and other in-flight emergencies.

Flying back to Hamilton after an Ops route to Rotorua and Te Kuiti

Flying back to Hamilton after an Ops route to Rotorua and Te Kuiti

One of my longer navigation flights with another cadet

One of my longer navigation flights with another cadet

There have definitely been some pretty memorable moments from my solo navigation flights. The first one, across to Raglan and up to the Firth of Thames, was a pretty straightforward route but the scenery was still incredible! At one point, I even saw one of my coursemates flying a few hundred feet below me on his flight – a very surreal feeling! However, by far my most enjoyable solo navigation flights were those which included other controlled airfields such as Rotorua and Tauranga. For these airfields, you often have to fly published departure and arrival routes which adds to the complexity (and enjoyment!) of the flight. The Coromandel Peninsula and Tongariro national park are definitely my favourite places to fly to, simply because of the breathtaking landscape which is scattered with huge mountain ranges and active volcanoes – a stark contrast to the UK that’s for sure! The VFR (visual flight rules) phase is finished off with the Competency Assurance flight, which is what we were essentially preparing for on all of our dual and solo navigation flights. This first CA is the MPL equivalent of the PT1 (or flying skills test) that the Wings cadets complete on their course, and it follows the basic outline of the ops route lessons whilst testing on the vast majority of the following:

Groundwork

  • NZ AIP  testing
  • Cessna 172 Flight Manual testing
  • Mass and Balance
  • Aircraft Performance (with EU-OPS)
  • Aircraft pre-flight and general knowledge
  • Passenger briefing
  • Weather and NOTAM briefing
  • Route planning and Fuel plan

Flight Test

  • Departure, passenger and emergency briefs
  • Departure and en-route navigation
  • Basic navigation techniques
  • Diversions
  • Circuit emergencies
  • Basic flight operation (i.e. radio, general aircraft handling, airspace, checks)
  • Stalls
  • Steep turns
  • Practice Forced Landing
  • Emergency ops (i.e. fire in flight, CO deteced, electrical problem)
  • Unusual attitude recovery
  • Instrument flight/Instrument failure
  • Compass turns

It all made for a very busy flight, but as we had a lot of practice (both solo and dual) of the above exercises it was something that we were all well prepared for, so everyone on EZMP01 passed the test without a problem. For me, the day started with my instructor giving me a route to plan from Hamilton up to Great Barrier Island just one hour before we were due to be off blocks. En-route, I completed a navigation leg before being asked to divert to Pauanui beach over the Coromandel mountains which turned out to be quite tricky with a fair amount of low cloud. I flew an overhead join and a few circuits at Pauanui before flying a divert to Matamata and completing stalls, steep turns, a practice forced landing and a number of simulated emergencies en-route. After just over two hours, we touched down back at Hamilton and I was told that I’d passed the test! It felt amazing to have the flight completed and although I’ll miss the VFR navigation phase, I’m already enjoying the new challenges of IFR flying (instrument flight rules). We also have two night flights coming up which will give us an appreciation of aircraft operation at night, which I for one am really looking forward to. One of the flights is solely spent in the Hamilton circuit, whereas the other looks at the differences of navigation when the sun has gone! The IFR phase is quite short for our course as so much of it will be done in the A320 simulators, but we have already covered a number of critical techniques which we will take forward and use throughout our careers. We have had a number of mass briefs covering everything from how to read the Jeppesen IFR plates to flying manoeuvres such as procedural turns, holding patterns and of course the ILS. The phase consists of eight simulator flights, five Cessna flights (including our second competency assurance flight), five DA42 Twinstar flights and three upset recovery flights in the Bulldog (these last two phases are completed in Bournemouth).

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All of the fleet are now sporting the new CTC brand image

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Charlie Tango Yankee, one of the newest in the fleet

To date, I have completed four of the IFR simulator lessons and I’m really enjoying the challenge of getting to grips with this different style of flying. So far, we have looked at VOR and NDB holds as well as GPS routing with the Garmin G1000. Holding looks pretty complex, but once you have flown a few they are actually quite straight-forward and intuitive to fly. In the simulator we are currently focusing on briefing the plates, flying a SID (standard instrument departure) and then carrying out a procedural turn to fly back to the hold where we practice flying the different types of entries, before joining a STAR (standard terminal arrival route) to land back at the airfield. In short, there are three types of hold entries that you can fly; direct, parallel and offset, and the hold you do depends on which direction you are approaching from. Each entry has a different joining method, but each one gets you to the fix from which you begin the holding pattern which itself consists of timed legs and monitored turns, as shown below. The whole thing gets a little more complicated with wind where you have to apply single, double or triple drift for the different sections depending on factors such as the wind strength and direction relative to the hold. Practice makes perfect as they say!

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As we’ve been extremely busy with the training programme over the past six weeks, we haven’t had as much time off as we did when we started. Despite this, we’ve still managed to have some day trips, including one to Rotorua for a day of mountain biking which was awesome. Hamilton was also paid a visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge whilst on their tour of New Zealand and Australia. The airport was a hive of activity with two New Zealand Air Force 757s arriving in quick succession and a fleet of cars, a lot media and of course lots of the general public coming to get a glimpse! Prince William stayed on site for the morning to have a  look around Pacific Aerospace, an aircraft manufacturer based at the airport who produce STOL (short take off and landing) aircraft. We were even treated to a flight display by one of the aircraft which, despite it’s boxy proportions, gave a very impressive performance! CTC has also been very busy over the past few weeks, with the rebrand now in full swing and a number of new CPs starting which include Wings, Qatar and British Airways FPP cadets. The fleet is now re-painted in the brand new livery and all of the signage in the training centre and Clearways being removed and replaced.

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Prince William leaving Pacific Aerospace

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Will and Kate boarding the 757

So, whats next? Currently, I have just four simulator flights and seven Cessna flights left here in New Zealand and in just three weeks time I will be back at home in the UK before starting the Bournemouth phase. It’s bound to be a busy few weeks, with the possibility of a weekend flyaway which will be fantastic if we get the chance to do it. We’ve also got a few things planned away from flying including a trip to Auckland to watch England play All Blacks at Eden Park!

That’s all for now! Here are some of the amazing views I’ve been lucky enough to see over the past few weeks. I’ll upload some new pictures to my Flickr page soon, but for now I have pieced together a second ‘film’ showcasing some of our solo navigation flights. I hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed flying it!!

Speak soon,

Chris

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Great Barrier Island (the runway threshold can be seen on the green patch under the wing flap)

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South Pacific Ocean

An amazing view whilst doing the morning pre-flight!

An amazing view whilst doing the morning pre-flight!