We have all been passengers on an aircraft at least once in our lives and with the global economy we live in today traveling has become as easy as flying like a bird. But the one thing that we still wonder is what happens behind the cockpit and how a flight is actually flown by a trained pilot.
The Times Kuwait recently had the opportunity to chat with a young Bahraini pilot Arwa Janahi who spoke about her journey into becoming a pilot and revealed some of the steps that pilots go through to ensure we have a safe and pleasant flight.
Arwa, the oldest of six siblings lived an everyday life in Bahrain, graduating and taking her master’s degree in finance before settling down to a rewarding career in a bank. However, she always had this feeling that something was missing in her life, there was no adventure no excitement in her desk-job. In 2010, when an opportunity came knocking in the form of a government-sponsored program to train young pilots, she took up the challenge and decided to change her career.
“Looking back today I’m very happy with the decision I made, and I truly consider it a great blessing to have had the opportunity to become a pilot. Who I have become today as a person and in my career was only because I had the courage to seize the opportunity when it presented itself,” said Arwa at the start of our conversation.
“Regarding my flights, I fly both long- and short-haul flights. Both flights need a pilot’s full attention with the only difference being that in a long-haul you get more time in between the take-off, cruise and landing, so you get breaks to relax and get refreshed. Whereas in short-haul, each stage comes soon after the other. It is like being alternately stretched and compressed.
“In a routine flight, before the take-off we have to calculate the weights and the speed and make sure everything is ready for the flight to take off. We go through a certain procedure and finalize the number of passengers and weight the flight is carrying. Imputing this on the computer system gives us the exact speed at which to take off.
“Once we are at cruise altitude, we are required to make radio contact with the control towers in every air space we enter to request permission and to inform them of our passing through their air space. The route that the auto-pilot takes on cruise is already predetermined at the time of take-off based on our initial inputs and the wind speed. Wind is the biggest factor here and it determines the length and route of our flight. This is selected from a list of options the system provides us at take-off
“Then, before we begin our descent to land, the flight crew brief each other and determine our landing path; we look at our best option to land smoothly and request the control tower for landing permission. Factors such as day or night and weight are important to consider along with the sequence and instructions we receive from the tower while making our final decent. Then to make the landing we first disengage the auto-pilot as come in to land manually.”
Elaborating on her journey as a pilot and travel experiences in her career, Arwa said: “Often when on long-haul flights such as to Malaga, which is a seven-hour flight, if we exceed our usual flying hours we get to take a layover which gives us time to get out and explore the city.
“Personally, I like to fly short-haul flights although it can be more stressful; a two- or three-hour flight is just perfect as it gives me equal time to work and to relax. But, of course, when you want to see and explore places as a part of your work, then you need to fly long-haul flights.”
Revealing some of the challenges she faced in her career, Arwa said, “In the beginning it used to be hectic flying up and down every day. Sleeping and waking up in different cities and at different times led to my body being in constant jet lag and I always felt tired, as I had been accustomed to a routine life earlier. But then, as I progressed through my training and career I got used to it and now I can even sleep while sitting up and at any time during the day. Another big challenge is having to check on the plane when it is 50-degrees hot outside. It is something I dread, but I guess these are the small things that make you tough and stronger.”
Speaking about the training sessions that she has to regularly undergo, Arwa said, “We are required to update our pilot license every six months and this requires us to go through a test which involves a lot of reading and upgrading on anything new related to our job.
“My favourite part of these re-training exercises is the simulator tests we have to take to deal with emergencies. In these tests, we go through every possible emergency situation, including the ones that are the least possible.
“I still remember a real emergency that I went through, at the time I was still in training. We were in the air, I was sitting right next to the Senior Training Captain and he was about to ask me questions from the instruction manuals. Suddenly the glass in front of the cockpit cracked all the way from one side to the other. It was just my fourth or fifth flight, and of course I started to freak out, and all I could do was to cover my face with my iPad and look at the captain.
“He was the calmest person that I had ever met, even after the outer glass cracked completely he calmly asked me if I wanted to move to the back seat and let the Safety First Officer take my place. They then handled the situation in a very calm and professional manner.
Describing her choice of career, she concluded by saying, “I can never really be tired of this life and I never felt the need to be in just one place. I have done the 9-5 job which was fantastic, but this feeling of being free and not being constrained to live in just one city is a blessing. It allows you to experience a different city almost every day, to interact with different cultures and people; this is something I cherish a lot in my life.”
By Meryl Mathew
Special to The Times