The countdown is on


Flight instructor Cord Becker is a former Lufthansa pilot with around 20,000 flight hours under his belt. He regularly writes about aviation topics. This time, he talks about how pilots prepare for a flight

When you’re a pilot, everything revolves around time. Planning and preparation are crucial, and begin long in advance of each flight, this time a long haul to Vancouver. A good two hours before departure, I arrive at the crew center in Frankfurt and shortly afterwards, meet up with my colleagues. We plug in our laptops and upload all the data relevant to the flight. Together, we discuss the weather forecast and our route. They determine how much fuel we will need, and we order it by pressing a button.

Pre-flight check by Captain and maintenance technician

The “walk around” and flight plan reviews are carried out with care

© G. Schläger/ LH Technik; I. Friedl; J. Görlich; Kathrein

 We hold a short briefing session with the cabin crew and then it’s time to pass through the security check and board the waiting crew bus. One hour to go. We board the aircraft as it’s being fueled. Fueling can take up to an hour depending on the amount of kerosene required. In the cockpit, I phone the flight manager on my cell phone, saying (usually): “Good morning, everything is okay, boarding can go ahead as planned.” A member of the cockpit crew now does the so-called “walk around,” which involves inspecting the aircraft from the ground and checking that landing gear, engines, wings and other components are all in good shape. Forty-five minutes until takeoff, the cleaners and caterers have come and gone, and fueling is completed. The captain consults the log book detailing the aircraft’s current technical data and endorses it with his signature. We upload the flight data (routes, flight altitudes and wind information) to our navigation computer and go through it once again. Then we calculate our takeoff speed and check our calculations several times because a mistake at this stage could have serious consequences.

The passengers begin boarding while the ramp agents are still busy loading the luggage. In the cockpit, the pilots run through the planned departure route and decide what to do in the case of engine failure – we are prepared for all eventualities. Then we request clearance from the tower and start going through our first checklists to ensure the proper functioning of all systems. We receive the final number of passengers on board and the cargo doors close. By now we know our exact takeoff weight and can finalize our calculations. Just before starting the engines, we go through the final checklist. LH494 pushes back right on time. Ten minutes later, we receive clearance from the tower and the runway is ours. We climb steadily for three minutes through thick cloud on this cold, dreary day but emerge suddenly into bright sunlight, leaving the hustle and bustle of the airport far below. Over the course of the next ten and a quarter hours we ferry our passengers safely over Greenland and across a sea of ice toward Vancouver on the west coast of Canada.