Pilots and flight preparation: How does it work?

Every flight is different and needs to be planned out carefully. The flight preparation varies according to the distance and complexity of the flight. How long does flight preparation take and what does it look like? We give you an inside look in the flight preparation of a pilot.

Domestic or long haul flights

The flight prep for domestic flights is a lot less complex than those of long-haul overseas flights. Domestic flights usually require a preparation time of sixty minutes to ninety minutes. For longer transatlantic flights this is ninety minutes or more.

Overseas flights start off in the crew lounge. This is where the captain and crew introduce themselves and go over the full flight schedule, weather reports and other important information. All of this includes dozens of papers including the exact taxiway on the airport.

When a flight is transoceanic, everything needs to be planned out manually on a chart. When the crew is ready to board the plane there are plenty of checks that are executed such as interior and exterior inspections of the plane, cockpit systems and instruments. Next is the information that needs to be loaded into the FMS, the Flight Management System. This information contains the route and wind speed- and direction.  

When the flight is quite short, the pilots and cabin crew have a pre-departure crew briefing on the plane. They exchange names, the flight plan, and anticipated turbulence and so on. When the flight is longer the crew may stay together for over a week, the captain will take more time to get to know everyone within the crew and have a meeting before the flight in one of the crew centers at the airport.

What is a flight plan?

A flight plan is a document containing all of the important information regarding the flight. This entails the type of aircraft, registration, and routing, altitudes and flight time. The pilots carry a large printout with detailed information on the flight. This includes fuel usage, routing, wind analyses, temperature etc. It’s not really the official flight plan, but in practice it is.

Pilots don’t plan flights, the dispatcher does

The flight plans are made by the airline’s operational control center. Not by the pilots themselves. The responsibility for the flight is shared between the captain and the dispatcher. The contact between the captain and dispatcher is continuous during the flight.

When all the checks are done, the pilot makes the most important decision on the flight. What will he/she eat? All pilots have to choose a different meal; in case one of them falls ill due to food poisoning, the other pilot(s) is/are able to continue flying.

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