Inside British Airways: Flight Training

British Airways has granted Simple Flying exclusive access behind the scenes to report on how the airline is run on a day to day basis. This week we spent time with Ian Pringle, the head of flight training at the airline, and his colleague Andy.

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British Airways invited Simple Flying to experience its flight simulator. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Ian talked us through the airline’s impressive array of flight simulators, alongside the regular training that new and existing pilots undertake to stay on their toes. In this article, we will take a look inside BA’s flight simulators, before our next article will delve more into the process of training a British Airways pilot from new hire to experienced captain.

The simulator hall

Arriving in British Airways’ flight simulator hall, you’re greeted with an impressive sight. The hall formerly served as a hangar for British Airways aircraft many moons ago, and little artifacts of the building’s history are still evident. Upon entering, I spotted the Speedbird emblem on the building’s giant doors. My guide Tony points out that the ceiling struts are also stylized like the speedbird.

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British Airways’ impressive simulator hall houses 16 full-motion flight simulators. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

The hall houses 16 full motions simulators. One interesting thing I noted was that the airline’s Boeing 767 simulator is not available for use. Just over a year ago, British Airways retired its last Boeing 767 following a final flight to Cyprus.

After a brief chat about British Airways’ flight training program with Ian, the head of the division, it was time to head up to the simulators. British Airways does all of its flight training in house, with at least one simulator of each type. Today, we were going to be flying British Airways’ Boeing 787 simulator, the main one you can see in the photo above. The Boeing 787 simulator can represent all models of the 787 from the -8 to the -10. British Airways is due to receive its first Boeing 787-10 variant in January.

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Outside the simulator. Photo: British Airways

The simulator

While it looks like some crazy robotic contraption from the outside, you could easily forget that you are in a simulator once you step inside. The interior is an exact one-to-one replica of a Boeing 787 cockpit. Ian explains to me real aircraft parts are used in the simulator to make it as realistic as possible.

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Ian took the captain’s seat in the cockpit. Photo: British Airways

I then took my seat in the co-pilot’s seat and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the seat’s controls are completely electric. At this point, Ian instructed me to adjust my view so that I could see what information was displayed in the head-up display.

A game-changer

In my opinion, the Boeing 787’s head-up display is a gamechanger for aviation. As a qualified pilot, albeit on much smaller aircraft, I’m used to having to significantly move my eyes to look from outside to the instruments and back again. This is not the case on the 787, as all of the essential information is displayed right where your eyes are.

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Flying felt like a breeze with the head-up display. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Once we’re settled into the seats, Ian gives me a brief tour of the cockpit showing me all of the essentials. Then it’s time to fly. We begin on Taxiway Bravo at London Heathrow holding at Lokki. Ahead of me, I can see British Airways’ maintenance base, where I’m sitting in real life.

I’m instructed to use the tiller to my right to steer the aircraft to the runway. I’m instantly amazed at the simulator’s realness as I feel every bump as the aircraft goes over taxiway centreline lights.

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You can feel the centreline lights in the flight simulator. Photo: British Airways

Time to take-off

Before I know it, we’re lined up on the runway centreline, with Ian briefing me on the takeoff. We accelerate down the runway, while I pull back on the controls as Ian says rotate. I look into the head-up display. Ian has instructed me to line up the aircraft symbol with the dashed line to achieve my intended rate of climb.

Once we’ve reached a safe height, we try some maneuvering. We start with the basic left and right turns. I’m shown how I can gauge the aircraft’s bank angle from the head-up display. In fact, Ian jokes that I’m finding it too easy and turns off the flight director. He then instructs me to deliberately overbank the aircraft to see what it will do. The control column gives me a firm nudge in the other direction to make me aware.

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The takeoff passes without incident. Photo: British Airways

What about landings?

British Airways’ simulators run 24/7 on a rolling 4-hour slot system. As a result, we need to vacate the sim by 11:00 so that two real pilots can transition from the Boeing 747, which British Airways is in the process of retiring.

With this in mind, the simulation is paused, and Andy puts us on the final approach for Runway 27L, three miles out. While the simulation is paused, I am shown the different daylight and weather settings on the sim. If you can think of it, it’s there.

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Next up its time to practice landing. Photo: British Airways

The flight sim is unpaused, and once again I’m in charge of the mighty Boeing 787. Thankfully, Andy has informed me there are no passengers on board, so there’s no pressure to make a good landing. I’m instructed once more to look into my head-up display and to align the aircraft symbol with a target circle.

I’m rather surprised with my landing, and it seems that Ian is too, calling it perfect (there is video evidence!).

He comments that there’s nothing to debrief on as everything was done to his instructions. Although, he does add that I could lower the nose slightly more softly. We completed the landing again, and not only did the nose come down softer, but I also landed much closer to the center of the runway.

Following this, there was time for a quick debrief with Ian before it was time to head to lunch. I’m definitely thinking it’s time to blow the dust off of my copy of Flight Simulator at home. In part 2 we will take a look at the theoretical side of British Airways’ rolling pilot training program.

Simple Flying would like to extend its thanks to Ian, Andy, Tony, and everybody at British Airways who helped make this possible.

Have you flown on a flight simulator? How were your landings? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Interested in how British Airways trains its cabin crew? Find out here with Part 1 and Part 2!