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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Power of the A350

For the Love of Airbus 

It was March 2016 that I said goodbye to the A330. Now, four and a half years later, I'm back to the Airbus. This time the A350. Many Boeing pilots and Boeing engineers argue against Airbus technology, where the plane flies the mission and the pilot manages the process. In August 2011, Joe Sutter, the man behind the Boeing 747, stated,

"Airplanes are supposed to do what the pilot tells them not the other way around. The difference between Boeing and Airbus is the Airbus tells the pilot what to do. That's wrong! The pilot should tell the plane what to do. And you can tell those Airbus people I said that. What are they going to do to me anyway? I'm ninety years old."

Sadly Joe passed in September 2016 at the age of 95. If you want to understand the legacy Mr. Sutter left behind, and the history of the B747, then please read his book. Well worth the read. However...

As Bob Dylan professed, 
"These Times They are a  Changin..." 

The A350 is an extremely well designed aircraft that will please any operator based on improved efficiency, which appears to be the primary goal of the industry. However, Airbus has also incorporated safety features that should keep any pilot out of trouble. I say "should", because if training is short-changed and pilots don't have the ability to obtain the requisite knowledge, accidents such as Pakistan Air 8303 will occur. 

Airplane operation is only as good as the pilot, 
The pilot is only as good as the training allows, 
regardless of manual or automated flight. 

Flap Extension 

I've observed three types of pilots. Those who start configuring 25-30 miles out in preparation for landing, so not to get behind the plane. But, they waste fuel. Others who get behind the plane, and are not stabilized at the safety gates. These pilots often end up going around because of that instability, costing more fuel during a missed approach than their conservative counterparts. Then we have those pilots who understand their aircraft, understand mass management, and aircraft performance. They fly the perfect arrival and approach safely and efficiently arriving at destination. 

Unfortunately these experienced pilots are retiring, training footprints are shortened, and pilots simply don't get the experience to become proficient due to long haul operations with necessity of multiple pilots and minimum take offs and landings. Airbus is working to solve this problem.  

Airbus created technology that will result 
in a safe and efficient operation,
any pilot should love! 

One of the energy efficient features on this aircraft, and for easy planning, is the indication when to extend the flaps. The airplane knows distance, altitude, and energy state and the perfect time to start configuring. It takes the guess work out for the new pilot, and, if followed, provides the most efficiency for the airline. 

There is a circle around a 1 and then another around a 2 on the ND, at the point to extend flaps 1 and 2, respectively. For the pilot new to the A350, this provides confidence that waiting until those numbers are reached, they can safely and efficiently configure. This is a great feature that will achieve high fuel savings and should reduce instability to improve safety.

There is also lot of data to interpret on the ND and the PFD, but this information will assist the pilot for a seamless departure and arrival if they know what the information means. Quality training, even for the most inexperienced pilot, can achieve a safe A350 operation, if the pilot has the aptitude and understanding of operational information. 

Training is the Key

Unless management involved in designing training programs understands what information is required and learning methodologies, and regulators bring requirements of the fly-by-wire technology to the forefront of AQP versus old school memory items, even the best aircraft in the world won't protect the passengers. There are far too many variables in the system to impact rote memorization and operation. 

Weather aside, ATC, due to the number and variety of aircraft, is dynamic and does not allow for a fully managed operation from departure to arrival in most cases. The pilot must have the understanding and ability so they can be flexible while managing their aircraft when ATC speeds them up, slows them down, or takes them off their desired plan.  Pilots on the A350 need more training not less. But this aircraft if probably one of the best designed for safety and fuel efficiency alike. 

For those who think the Airbus is about button pushing, it's far more than that. The A350 requires a higher level of understand and knowledge to manage the operation safely. 

Back in my A330 days, the joke was that airbus made all pilots average. The best pilots lost their skills relying on technology, and the  under-skilled pilots were able to adequately manage the airplane due to the technology. The truth is, flying has shifted from what it once was, but it's still a fabulous adventure. After experiencing the A350 I don't want to ever take a step back in technology. 

I finished my type on the October 9th, and have yet to see the plane for my operational experience. But, I am reviewing daily and anxiously await to when I can get flying. Until then, I will be sharing my knowledge on the A350, hopefully in a manner that improves understanding and operational safety, here. 

The magic of the non-moving thrust levels next week!

If you're interested in the research behind the importance of training, the level of understanding, and what I learned during my doctoral research please read Normalization of Deviance, a Threat to Aviation Safety. 

Until then... 
Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene PhD


  1. Karlene,
    You’re going to love flying the A350!
    Welcome aboard!

    1. Thanks Bill! I think so too. And it all started with my foundational training on the Airbus. Thank you for being the best instructor!

  2. I remember the post about him from back then!


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