According to the latest numbers from Statista, four million people fly somewhere around the world every day. This number is expected to increase even further as experts note the “revenge traveling” phenomenon, wherein people are flying more than ever to make up for the lockdowns that occurred during the global pandemic.
Given how normal and commonplace flying has become, most people take it for granted that an airplane is a sophisticated form of machinery hurtling through the air at 550 mph or more. Most people ride airplanes as nonchalantly as they would a bus or a car and any form of turbulence during a flight is simply considered part of the experience.
Passengers can attribute the safety and comfort of their flight experiences to pilots and the training that pilots received at their accredited pilot school as cadets. In addition to their three- to four-year initial course, professional pilots must also attend regular training to keep them updated on the latest flying techniques. Perhaps this begs the question: what do pilot cadets really learn in school, and what emergency situations are they trained to handle?
Below are five of the most common emergency situations that pilot cadets are trained for through a mix of actual flying and simulator training. While this list is not exhaustive, it should give you an idea of what skills and technical knowledge are needed from a pilot for various types of emergencies.
Weather changes are the most common flight emergencies, and with good reason. Even if a weather station, such as the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), forecasts clear skies and great visibility on takeoff, pilots never know what the weather will be like during flight or while landing. Cadets are extensively trained in dealing with various types of weather, especially any fail-safes that need to be prompted because of a weather change. This is especially true for international flights between countries with different weather conditions, for example between the Middle East to North America.
Aircraft Component Malfunction
It’s a common misconception that all pilots fly the same type of aircraft. Regardless of which airline you choose as a passenger, you may pilot a different type of craft to match your desired destination. The aircraft that you would use for a local flight from Manila to Cebu would be different from what you’d ride for smaller aircraft while international flights tend to demand bigger ones.
Each aircraft is designed differently for a particular purpose, and pilots have to learn how to distinguish them. This includes being aware of particular components as they appear on different aircraft and, as a result, how to handle particular situations of component failure or malfunction such as engine failure or gear malfunction. Pilots typically receive additional training for newly launched buses and refresher training for existing models.
Aircraft damage may not seem as common to the average passenger as damage from a car or truck crash, but it’s worth remembering that aircraft can get damaged due to collisions, bird strikes, or extreme weather. In these situations, pilots must follow the three-part code of “aviate-navigate-communicate.”
“Aviate” ensures that every procedure is still being followed, particularly for the safe continuation of the flight. “Navigate” means that pilots must navigate the plane in question to resolve the issue at hand. This usually involves following certain electronic checklists and performing various memory tasks, or tasks that are done through muscle memory. Lastly, pilots must “communicate” both to the crew and passengers on board. Pilots must observe a particular hierarchy, with the crew being informed first, then the Air Traffic Control, and then the passengers if needed.
Shortage of Fuel
Though extremely rare, there may be cases where an aircraft runs out of fuel mid-flight. Pilots are trained to immediately reduce such an emergency’s effects on flight stability and contact the nearest airspace for a forced landing.
Despite what popular media may portray, planes are not usually refueled in the air and require the craft to be safely grounded. Cadets who are still in flying school are also taught to perform various memory tasks to compensate for the possible sudden loss of altitude and turbulence.
Fires can be caused by a variety of factors, including electrical failures, overheated equipment, or improper cargo. Regardless of the cause, pilots must take every step to prevent the fire from spreading and, with the cooperation of their crew, extinguish it immediately.
Similar to the points listed above, pilots are trained to perform a series of memory tasks while crossing out checklists to ensure the safe continuation of their flights. If the fire has resulted in damage, however, the pilot may decide to schedule a forced landing.
Again, flying an aircraft is a complex operation that requires pilots to be nimble and always at their best in any situation. Even normal day-to-day operations are managed through an extensive list of procedures and the meticulous application of checklists. These checklists support the crew in understanding the proper configuration of gears and how each system functions. During an emergency, pilots must continue to refer to these checklists to ensure the safe flight of the plane.
On top of being trained for technical skills, pilots are also trained to manage their emotions during an emergency or abnormal situation. It is critical that they do not let fear or anxiety overwhelm them so that all issues are resolved as soon as possible. This, of course, is what allows passengers to reach their destinations safely.