The Final Countdown…

As is the norm with the course, things have been very busy since I last spoke to you after our trip to Luton in October. EZMP01 have now completed the Intermediate phase of training, another huge milestone which means that there is now just one more phase left to complete. More about that in a minute, but first, here is what we got up to during the Intermediate phase…

Some presents from CTC at the start of the Intermediate phase
Day one of A320 tech – Instrument data sources

The phase started off with an eighteen day period of ground school during which we completed the Airbus A320 technical module, which proved to be the most intensive period of theory training since our ATPL ground school. All of the CBT and the aircraft manuals were provided for us on iPads, which certainly cut down on the paperwork because, as I’m sure you can imagine, the A320 is full of complex systems and equipment which we had to know very well for the exams. To do this, in addition to the CBT we had two hours each day to put the theory into practice in CTCs Virtual Flight Decks (VFD), which are fully interactive simulators of the flight deck. The topics covered in the exam ranged from the basic, such as windows/doors, interior furnishing and lighting to the more complex topics of navigation, automation and flight controls. As well as the iPad program, the main source of information was the easyJet/Airbus FCOM (Flight Crew Operating Manual) which, at just over 4000 pages long, certainly contains all that we are required to know about the aircraft!

It took just over two weeks to get through the material, and after a couple of revision days it was time to sit the exam which consisted of two parts, A and B. Part A was made up of the vast amount of technical knowledge, QRH procedures and the various aircraft limitations which we had been learning, whilst part B focused on performance and EU OPS. After completing the second exam we had a classroom session looking at the Panasonic Toughpad, a tablet which EasyJet use to calculate the aircraft performance and display the LIDO airfield charts. It was great to put some of the theory into action on the device we will be using at the airline, and it also prepared us for the start of the intermediate and advanced phases where the ‘Toughbook’ (an older varient of the toughpad) is used to calculate the performance for each simulator detail. Prior to each detail, we are given a completed loadsheet (exactly the same as those used for real), which details the number of passengers and cargo on board and where it is located. We then enter this into the toughbook in order to get various aircraft information including zero fuel weight, % centre of gravity, takeoff weight and takeoff speeds. This information is then checked and entered into the aircrafts FMGC (flight management guidance computer) where it is used by the aircraft to make a huge number of calculations.

The 'Toughpad' which we will use on the line at EasyJet
The ‘Toughpad’ which we will use on the line at EasyJet

In addition to the ground school, we received some excellent news as we finally found out our bases. I’m very happy and excited to be heading to Gatwick in the new year to begin my career at EasyJet!

Ground school made for an intense few weeks, and after a couple of days off the first of our thirteen intermediate simulator sessions began. Despite the intermediate phase being much shorter than basic, the lessons are much more advanced and focus greatly on the handling of complex failures and more advanced procedures in a multi-crew environment. One of the biggest differences is that all of the simulator details from the start of the Intermediate phase are with full motion turned on, which is great fun! The first few lessons focused on getting our landing and takeoff techniques ‘perfected’, including crosswind techniques and different approach types such as circling, precision and non-precision (all of which we had seen previously in the basic phase). We also had another upset recovery session which again enabled us fly the aircraft to it’s absolute limits and get comfortable flying it when things may not be going to plan! As I mentioned in a previous article, the inclusion of upset recovery training followed the crash of Air France 447 in 2009, and it has formed a vital part of our training throughout New Zealand, Bournemouth and back here in the simulators at Nursling. Also introduced in this phase was the use of more complex features of the FMGS (flight management and guidance system), the use of LIDO airport charts, and more advanced operating conditions such as windshear, cold weather, storms and low visibility operations. A number of new situations, such as TCAS RA’s ( Traffic Avoidance System, Resolution Advisory – the act of avoiding another aircraft on a collision course with yours!!!) and even what to do if you suspect a bomb on board were introduced, which not only involved a good amount of hand flying but a huge step up in our management and decision making skills.

Working out the performance for a sim detail using the Toughbook

Each phase on the MPL culminates with a competency assurance flight, and the intermediate phase was no different. This time around, the competency flight involved a TCAS RA on departure, an electrical fault in the climb and, just as we thought things couldn’t get any worse, a ‘bomb on board’ threat, giving us a matter of minutes decide where we were going to divert to and how we were going to manage the situation. It was a challenging and, despite the seriousness of the topic, fun flight which really required us to prioritize and manage the situation for a successful outcome.

Due to our staggered start dates at EasyJet, from here on in EZMP01 are split into two groups for the advanced phase. I am in the first half and started earlier this week, and with three simulator sessions done it is becoming apparent just how close the end of the course is! My LST (license skills test) is just four weeks away and the lesson content has definitely stepped up once again compared with the intermediate phase. Again, the majority of the lessons involve a various number of failures and emergency situations which have already included a full electrical failure at V1 (a ‘GO’ situation, meaning you must take the problem into the air) and other varying electrical failures. We have twelve simulator details to complete before Christmas after which we return in groups of two for our final four simulator details. Two of these are the final preparation lessons for our LST (license skills test), which takes place over the following two simulator details and includes a lot of single engine flying, as well as precision and non precision approaches, raw data flying, ECAM procedures (Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitoring, a feature which displays vital actions and system information in emergency situations) and much more. It is after this two day flight test that, thinking positively, we will finally be qualified pilots and the course at CTC will come to an end after an incredible eighteen months. Following this, we have a couple of weeks before starting our training at easyJet which involves a couple of weeks of ground training, two days of flights on the jumpseat and the all important base and line training. It’s all suddenly becoming very real, and we are all extremely excited.

The events hall filling up

Away from training itself there has also been a lot going on. Recently a number of us took a trip to Gatwick to check out the local area and look at places where we could live next year. It was a busy day, but in true cadet fashion we took a bit of time to head to the runway threshold to get a look at our new toys coming in to land. With the sun setting, it made for a breathtaking view. Yesterday was also CTCs last 2014 open day, so myself and a coursemate decided to help out for the day. It was great to speak to so many aspiring pilots and their families, and I hope that those who came managed to get a good feel for the facilities and have any questions answered. I really enjoy helping out at these events, and it’s something I hope to continue doing in the future. For those who missed it, CTC will be running open days once monthly starting in January, so there are plenty of chances to head down and check out the training centre. You can find out the latest dates over at the website (details will be added soon).

As usual, if anyone has any questions, feel free to contact me using the ‘contact me’ menu option. With this vital training phase approaching, there won’t be many updates on the website over the next few weeks so have a great Christmas, and I will speak to you all again in January!

Our aviation themed tree. Merry Christmas!

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.

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.

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!


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!

On the gate at Heathrow!