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Unlike me, flying isn’t your life and it’s unlikely to be your first love! Because of your anxiety, you see flying as risky and you probably think it’s an environment where a lot of things are subject to chance, or unpredictable and threatening circumstances. That is not true, nothing is ever left to chance. Flying is not balanced on a knife-edge … flying is normal.
BUT your feelings are different from mine. It’s your feelings that come to the fore, overriding many of the facts, and often overriding common sense. But don’t worry, it’s normal to do that if you have a fear of flying. Your reality is very different from my reality. I want you to keep an open mind and get used to the idea of believing the facts, rather than believing your feelings. it’s important that you keep some of your feelings, otherwise trying to contain them would mean that the ‘pressure’ would build up and eventually burst out. You need to control the build-up of feelings by allowing some feelings to show. Just make sure that they don’t take over.
Before I learned to fly, I felt that flying was safe or I wouldn’t have wanted to be a pilot. Flying is as natural to me as breathing. Curiously though there are some fearful flyers who like planes and everything about them, but just can’t fly in them. So I started at a great advantage over anyone who is anxious about being in a plane. While I was growing up if anything ever happened that hit the headlines … and it did quite often before I learned to fly, I’d just ignore it and I resolved that it would never let it happen to me. I also take for granted is that planes themselves are safe. I have complete trust in any plane I fly and when I fly a plane, I fly it exactly the way it’s designed to be flown. It comes to me with a certificate of airworthiness and that’s the way I fly it … within those rules. And now I pass on that attitude and discipline to the pilots I train and the instructors I teach. Our passengers have every right to expect us to fly according to the rules and not one dot outside them.
Flying is something that
As you can imagine the rules that govern airline operations are very different from the ones that we used to have at the flying club I taught at. But if I know anything about the way anxious flyers think about flying, they’ll start worrying about more than just the plane and the pilots. If they haven’t got something to worry about they’ll soon find something, but this isn’t a criticism, it’s an observation, people get very anxious when they think about flying. Flying is normal, my children watched Dad go to work and saw Dad come home when he’d finish. They didn’t worry about me more than any other child worried about their Dad/ Mum going to work. Here are some of my days at work.
If I’m flying from London to Paris, I check in an hour before the flight, meet my crew and discuss all the operational stuff like weather, technical status, flight time limitations and so on. the cabin crew will discuss the passenger requirements and ‘specials’ like unaccompanied children, disabled passengers, prisoners, deportees and a host of other things you’ll never have thought about. In conjunction with the co-pilot, I’ll nominate the fuel requirements for the route, diversion, contingencies, holding and so on. I’ll file a flight plan and then go to my plane. On arrival, I’ll check the exterior of the plane while the co-pilot will set the cockpit instruments for the route and check all the systems. When the cabin crew has completed the cabin safety checks and checked all their medical and safety equipment they will board the passengers. When I’m back in the cockpit I’ll do my checks and when the engineer brings me the Technical Status Log I’ll check and sign it. we’ll close the doors call Air Traffic Control for start-up and then do the easy bit like flying to Paris.
What’s the difference if we’re flying across the Atlantic from London to New York? We’d check in as a crew a little earlier, probably an hour and a half rather than one hour because the weather briefing may be longer. We’d fly along the North Atlantic airways that are designated each day according to the wind direction. That’s why when you cross the Atlantic to North America sometimes you can see Greenland or Iceland and sometimes you can’t even though you are flying the ‘same’ route. In fact, you’re flying to and from the same airports but using slightly different routes.
All flights regardless of destination have the same rules governing them. They all ‘fly’ the same way. We operate them all the same way and there’s no difference between an intercontinental flight and a short flight between two cities … other than the way you perceive them.
There are fixed airway routes between cities, countries, and continents. There are airways across the Atlantic Pacific and across the North Pole. Very very few commercial flights operate outside the fixed airways system, and those would be in sparsely populated and remote areas where there are very few aircraft operating.
A question that I am often asked is this … What do you do if the weather is cloudy? The answer is that I do the same as I usually do, and at night I do exactly the same as well. I fly a predetermined route looking at my instruments with the autopilot connected doing the ‘low skill’ work for me. This leaves me to do the higher skill things like managing the flight. How far have we come for someone with a fear of flying? I hope we’ve come a long way even in these few sentences.
I hope I’m normalising flying for you. Civil Aviation is a well-organized industry where everyone knows what they’re doing, and, they been trained to do it. Flying is normal to them, the procedures are well established and the things we do are day to day routines, well practiced and rehearsed. Everyone works towards a common goal of keeping everything safe. Because everything is so routine if a problem does occur we fix the broken bit and carry on. And because we have rigid procedures any problems show up quickly.
For example, a technical delay means one thing to you and something quite different to those of us in the industry … so where you worry, we get on and do. If your flight is late it’s likely to be something very simple…don’t imagine that the engines are faulty or something has fallen off.
Here is the sort of comment that I often hear. ” My friend’s friend told me that they’d heard someone say that they heard a pilot say that it was a difficult airport to land at.” First things first, it’s hardly a quote from the horse’s mouth. Next, there are no difficult airports – and from my point of view, and from a legal point of view, I can either land there or I can’t. It’s not a question that I’m a better pilot, or my eyesight is better or that I’m taller or anything like that. Legally, operationally, performance wise, aircraft type, weather wise I can either land or I can’t and that’s it. But what considerations are there to make sure that a plane could take off or land on a ‘short’ runway?
First Fact: The heavier a plane is the faster it has to fly to get airborne. Second Fact; The heavier a plane is the faster it has to fly as it approaches to land. Third Fact: the lighter a plane is the slower it can take off. Fourth Fact The lighter a plane is the slower it can approach to land. Fifth Fact: If you land on a ‘short’ runway at low speed you won’t need so much space to slow down and stop. The problem for fearful flyers is that you can’t SEE any of these differences. A plane weighing 80 tonnes looks just like one weighing 50 tonnes and furthermore, you can’t see the different speeds at which they’re flying … they all LOOK the same. I can tell you that the difference in distance to take off or land if a plane is at its maximum or minimum weight is considerable and the difference of 30 knots (35mph) on the landing speed will make a great difference to the stopping distance. Now a word about two engine planes flying on routes where planes used to have three or four. Why did we use planes with four engines? Because the reliability of engines was not very good AND the power available from older engines was far less than today’s engines. Rolls Royce engines, for example, are monitored by engineers in Derby regardless of where the engines are in the world. so as soon as an engine starts in Sydney … back in the UK, all the engine information is sent to the monitoring stations.
In summary: We do the same things on one flight as we do on every other flight. I hope that reading about how I, as a pilot, feel about flying will help you to build your own knowledge and confidence to help you to overcome your fear of flying.
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