Welcome onboard the new Airbus A350

The unveiling of the A350 ushers in a new era not just for the environment and travelers, but also for the people responsible for getting them to their destinations – the SAS pilots.

With its new livery and impressive sustainability statistics, the addition of the Airbus A350 to the SAS fleet marks a step forward both on the -inside and outside of the aircraft. As travelers, we may not fully appreciate -everything about the development, but for the pilots in charge, having what amounts to a new state-of-the-art office brings a myriad of benefits to their jobs.

“As pilots, it means a lot to us that we’re working with the most modern, advanced technology on the market right now. Even though actually flying the plane isn’t that different to the A330, many of the changes have both direct and indirect benefits for us,” says Thomas Lunding, a long serving Swedish SAS pilot based in Copenhagen. 

A cursory glance inside the impressive cockpit of the A350 reveals a step forward in terms of technology.

“The presentation of the systems and flight instruments is a big difference,” says Lunding. “The cockpit has a kind of space-age look on the A350, with six large TV screens that give us everything we need. All the older mechanical instruments are gone, so we now just have electronic displays showing all the important information in a more efficient way. We no longer have to keep looking at different screens and we don’t need to move around to find the details we need,” the pilot adds.

Because the A350 is considered to be a variant of its predecessor, the A330, comprehensive re-training isn’t necessary for the pilots. The new aircraft has a so-called common type rating, which is, in effect, a driver’s license for pilots, Lunding explains.

“If you want a comparison, a driver’s license covers Volvos, BMWs, whatever. In the same way, an A330 license covers the A350. There are, however, certain technical and maneuvering differences that need to be learned, so the authorities require pilots to have at least four days of basic technical training and four sessions in a flight simulator. Pilots also need to do two familiarization flights together with an experienced A350 pilot. Today, we’re three qualified A350 pilots at SAS – two are fleet chief pilots and one a flight instructor – that have the full package of technical, practical and flight training experience. Once we get our aircraft, we will continue training other pilots,” he adds.

On top of working on a modern, new aircraft that feels and looks fresh, pilots also appreciate the fact that they’re in charge of such a fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly vessel which, says Lunding, owes a lot to new technology that can provide a future blueprint.

“What really makes this aircraft stick out is the use of composite materials. Until now, planes have mostly been made of aluminum tubing, but driven by the need to reduce weight and hence reduce fuel usage, more and more composites are being used now, both in the wings and the fuselage,” he says.

There are other more subtle benefits, too, for the pilots on the A350, from having more space to move around, to the ease in which they can steer the aircraft thanks to more sophisticated computers driving the plane’s Flight Management System (FMS).

Meanwhile, the air pressure onboard the A350 is lower than others, which is an additional possible benefit, according to the pilot.  

“On most aircraft, the cabin pressure means you’re at the equivalent height of a 2,400m-high mountain. On the A350, though, they’ve reduced that to one that’s just 1,800m. You may experience it, you may not, but there is a difference and as all our bodies react differently, it could help some people with the effects of jet lag.”

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