A commercial airline pilot answers your questions

Taylor Gist, Lidia Fraser (Mar 16 2020)

You can do anything you want when you leave school. 

Taylor Gist decided to become a commercial airline pilot (Qantas First Officer Boeing 737-800).

Here, Taylor answers questions from an NCEA student who wants to be a pilot one day.

Q. What makes you excited about coming to work each day?
A. I love that the view from my office changes every single day, I get to see some amazing parts of the country and the world and no two days are the same!

Q. What do the hours on your roster range from?
A. Work hours vary very much on the type of lifestyle you choose to lead and the type of flying (either international or domestic) you are conducting. My usual working week at the moment has me home every night flying 3-4 days per week with weekends off! This also is very dependant on a continuously rolling seniority system if you are more senior to your work colleagues then you have more say in the flying you do.

Q. What are the most important things to keep in mind when flying in rough and wet conditions?
A. The most important things to remember in challenging conditions is that fuel = time and options. Always giving yourself another option or back up plan and never allowing yourself to be painted into a corner or uncomfortable situation. We have a saying: hope for the best but prepare for the worst!

Q. What's the best way to learn all the jargon?
A. The best way to learn the radiotelephoney (actually called that!) I would suggest having a listen to live Air Traffic Control interactions with pilots, which can be easily found online. Another great way to learn is to read a few text books published by aviation theory providers that dive into the specifics of aviation phraseology, pronunciation and edict. I used to encourage my students to have a go at reading all the car license plate numbers out loud in the phonetic alphabet on the way to school/work/sport just to get some practice in!

Q. How does being on standby work? 
A. Standby can vary from company to company. My company specifies that we must be contactable for a 12 hour period usually from 0400-1600 and we must be within two hours of getting the call and signing on for work at the airport for that specific day.

Q. How do you remember what action to take in an emergency?
A. The actions we take in the event of an emergency are referred to as Memory Items, meaning they must be conducted from memory in the correct sequence based on the scenario.

We learn these items at the beginning of our training on that specific aircraft (most aircraft have different memory items) and are tested on these every 6 months or so.

Q. How do you know a decision you make is valid/right (about speed or route/course etc.)
A. The good thing about complex aircraft (the type found in airlines or corporate flying) is that there is always at least 2 pilots up the front. This is great for decision making, because we work as a team, using everybody’s experience to decide a course of action! The company may also assist in some of those decisions by imposing a more stringent policy upon us with speed or tracking requirements which will also assist in our decision making process.

Q. Advice on communicating with Air Traffic Control?
A. Communicating with air traffic control can initially be daunting. The best advice I can give is to relax and maybe have a little bit of what you're about to say written down on a notepad so as to not lose your way. Also, don’t speak too quickly and most importantly try to use standard phraseology (Aviation specific terms). It’s much easier to understand each other when we are both speaking the same language!


If you'd like to be a pilot one day and have more questions for Taylor, send them to [email protected] and we'll pass them on.

For NCEA Students
By NCEA Students