The pilots are always prepared
Pilots have a big responsibility. They have to fly passengers 40,000 feet above the ground and make sure they always arrive at their destination safely. Staying in tip-top condition is crucial, which is why SAS pilots regularly hone their skills through training in simulators. This ensures they are prepared for any situation that can arise.
“Pilots are not superhuman – they are simply well trained,” says Jon Fredrik Løvberg, Director Flight Crew and Chief Pilot at SAS. He is responsible for 500 short-haul pilots in Norway. Today, two pilots are scheduled to do their semi-annual simulator training, with Ståle Blindheim as their instructor. Besides being an instructor, Blindheim is also a test pilot and captain at SAS. During the simulator training he keeps an eye on the pilots and subjects them to a series of complicated and stressful situations.
“We simulate an ordinary commercial flight, but naturally things do not go totally as planned,” Blindheim explains.
Far from it. The pilots have to abort a landing due to bad weather. The captain faints in mid-flight and the co-pilot has to take over landing the plane while at the same time ensuring the captain gets the help he needs. The simulator is not designed to make things easy.
“That is why there are two of you, because things like that can happen,” Blindheim says. “But thanks to the training, we know that the co-pilot can handle a situation like this.”
The pilots have to face plenty of different scenarios during the four hours they spend in the simulator. After taking off from Tromsø, one engine cuts out while a Widerøe flight is stuck on the runway, preventing them from landing again. The pilots need to find out which other airport they can land at. In another scenario, a flock of geese strikes both engines and causes them to fail, so the pilots have to glide the plane into a landing.
“Their heads are probably buzzing by the time they finish,” Blindheim says. “The different scenarios come thick and fast. The pair we had today passed with flying colors. And this is pretty much the case with every pilot.”
Every day is different
Chief Pilot Løvberg is very pleased with his pilot corps. The simulator training is not only beneficial for pilots, but also for SAS. It is a way of knowing that the pilots are up to the standard expected. If the simulator training reveals a need, the pilots are given extra training.
“Our pilots maintain a high standard, and we seldom see any need for extra training,” Løvberg says. “A large part of the training is designed to show that you can tackle problems and to build self-confidence. You should step out of the simulator feeling good.”
He explains that the training program is structured to ensure that over the course of a year or so, the pilots should have experienced every system and faced a variety of different problems and complications. Additionally, there is classroom training designed to optimize teamwork in the crew, plus annual training in emergency procedures. Blindheim says being a pilot is a very demanding job.
“You have to be on your toes at all times,” he says. “You train and train and face challenges all the time. No two days are ever the same – different weather, different destination, different airport.”
A good attitude
A certain type of person is best suited to being a pilot and SAS has defined the qualities they look for. A pilot should have good self-knowledge, be a team player, be able to make decisions, have good leadership skills, and be a good communicator.
“The most important quality is that they should have a good attitude,” Løvberg says. “We say that attitude determines whether you get the job, and we will then train you in the skills and knowledge you require.”
His status as Chief Pilot has not kept Løvberg grounded full-time. When the opportunity arises, he clears his desk, turns off his email, and slides back into the cockpit. Before he was named Chief Pilot five years ago, he had a cockpit for an office for 13 years at SAS. The occasional flight gives him a unique opportunity to take the pulse of SAS, and he gets to know individual pilots better when they spend time together in the cockpit.
“Obviously, flying is demanding, but at the same time it is also completely different to my normal daily routine, so it is somewhat relaxing for me,” Løvberg says. “I think people would be surprised by how much fun we have in the cockpit, and by the cooperation and camaraderie between the pilots. I find it fascinating. It is enjoyable overall, even when there’s a gale blowing outside.”
By Eileen Danielsen
Published: May 20, 2017