Pilot responsibility

Between everyday life and responsibility 

Tim Takeoff
2 pictures
5 minutes

An airport can often feel like a different world when you enter it. You emerge from the train or car park and suddenly everything is geared to getting you as pleasantly as possible from A to B – at first glance a simple process. Check in, hand over your baggage, head for the gate, wait, board, arrive. However, an infinite number of people are working behind these processes to provide this experience.

A whole lot of people and high responsibility

Long before you enter the terminal yourself, you appear as a passenger in the form of figures in the most diverse documents in the hands of employees who prepare the impending flight and also take responsibility for it. For one thing, of course, the right aircraft needs to be at the right place at the right time – every time. A dispatcher for major airlines has the task of preparing and coordinating innumerable flight movements every day. The crew planner needs to provide the right crew for any specific flight, taking into account the individual employees’ flight duties and rest periods. Engineers on board guarantee the airworthiness of the aircraft and the safety of all passengers with their signature. The crew receives the latest weather briefing and flight plan from Dispatch, checks it for inconsistencies and then relies on it during the flight. The amount of fuel required is calculated and communicated to the fueler, who also signs it off with his or her name.

And, naturally, it would also be a major problem were the wrong meals and drinks to be loaded on board. Catering staff work tirelessly, day in day out, to design and prepare countless meals for efficient use on board. The demands on this food are very exacting in view of the pressure difference and dry air on board. Vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free … of course, all modern dietary needs have to be provided for in advance.

A sophisticated system

And then when the passenger gets involved again, he or she obviously needs to be managed through the crowds in the airport. Only when you consciously consider how you have ultimately arrived in your booked seat will you become aware of the sophisticated system within the airport that handles these crowds of people day after day. Technical signage leads us intuitively to the correct baggage handover or to the check-in counter, and ground handling staff are responsible for dealing with any problems that arise within the airport. Delays, flight changes, cancellations or “lost” passengers need to be managed within the bigger picture to achieve a healthy balance between delays and common sense. The majority of airlines will not keep the Smith family waiting at the gate at the start of their holiday just because they got lost or ended up spending too much time in Duty Free. Someone working at the airport will ultimately have to take responsibility for this delay, too – and it is the same the other way round, i.e. if the aircraft leaves the terminal right in front of the delayed people.


The so-called “ramp agent”, who is responsible for all operations outside the terminal, has only one thing on his mind when it comes to the dispatch of the waiting aircraft. After all, aircraft essentially only make money in the air and ground times have to be kept as short as possible. Baggage handlers, cleaning staff, fuelers, push-back truck drivers or toilet waste disposal personnel all await instructions about when and how they need to operate. Last but not least, the on-board staff relies on this important contact between them and the operators of the airport.

On Board

Once the Smith family has arrived on board, the flight attendants take over responsibility – day after day, with several round trips every month. They have to make the right decisions in an emergency or carry out the correct procedures to ensure that all the passengers are safely sitting in a lifeboat following a possible unfortunate emergency landing on water shortly after take-off from Majorca, without them struggling to leave the aircraft because of inflated life vests.

Although very rarely does anything go wrong in this well-oiled machine, fire service personnel and doctors are always on hand to provide everyone with a high level of safety should the worst come to the worst. The red cars with blue light suddenly appear out of nowhere, almost as if they had been waiting for this moment. However, they too have been instructed from the background, by the air traffic controllers in the tower or along the flight route, who professionally support the stricken aircraft at all times with a level head. Until it comes to a stop, and throughout every minute of their duty. Errors here can trigger a domino effect resulting in a catastrophe. They are trained and honed for this throughout their entire working lives.

Next time, you can look forward to your check-in with confidence when you consider how many flight movements are handled seamlessly by all these people day in day out. Every single link in this chain does its very best job every day.

However, ultimately it is a single person who steers this technically complex metal bird through the sky. Read more here …

Pictures © SFS

by Tim Takeoff

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