Friday, 14 December 2012


No technical jargon or aviation procedures required. No names mentioned, just a big question. Why?

The following is about my  annual line check whilst flying for an Italian company some years ago. It was actually my check after initial company line training, and the primary reason why I decided to leave.

After about four weeks of line training I was finally scheduled for my line check. A check which every pilot has to undergo when joining a new company, well your name could be Frank Abagnale!
I was rostered to operate a four sector day from Milan to Ibiza, returning to Bergamo, before flying back to Ibiza and then home to Milan. Tiring enough without having your every action scrutinised by a training captain.

So I arrived at the briefing office nice and early at Milan’s Malpensa airport’s terminal two, to give myself enough time to go through the pre-flight paperwork and meet the rest of the crew. I was paired up with a co-pilot whom I had not flown with before, but had met around the office, a very nice and helpful chap. That was the good news; my training captain was infamous in the company for being a bully and difficult to work with. However, I had not met him before and was willing to make my own mind up and form my own opinions.

The briefing office was not huge, just big enough to contain one round table with space for five chairs, and a larger rectangular table, along with filing cabinets and pilots’ mailboxes. I sat down at the round table with my co-pilot and we started working through the paperwork, flight plans, weather, route information &c.

The storm was about to start, in walked my training captain, he looked at me and asked, “Why are you sitting there, come on the other tables better!” he tutted, shaking his head and started talking rudely in Italian to my co-pilot.

Great start I thought, I just stood up and offered my hand, and I suppose sarcastically opined, “By the way my name is Alan!”

Nothing I could do was right, and when he asked how much fuel I wanted to take for the first sector which was a tanking sector, he countered my suggestion. “No, come on you’re a professional, look we can expect up to twenty children, that’s at least another ton you can take.”

“Yes, but if this number of children is wrong, then we’ll be overweight for landing!” I replied. I was amazed at his reply, “So what we’ll just change the zero fuel weight in the FMC.” Incredible attitude I thought!

So pre-flight duties completed we met up with the rest of the crew, and headed off to the aircraft, you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife, my crew for today were literally in fear of this man, not good.

Anyway out at the aircraft the atmosphere just got worse. Going through my pre-departure procedures, this bully shouted at my co-pilot and I to hurry up because if we missed our slot I could pick up my bag and leave as I would be fired…his exact words. I replied. “What slot, no one has told me that we had a slot?”

“I know, so you should too,” was his answer, he had been told but decided not to pass on this information, great I thought, what ever happened to teamwork.

He started yelling at my co-pilot to ask for pushback clearance, I advised him that we were not ready, but he wouldn’t listen and started shouting in Italian at my co-pilot.

Pushback clearance was obtained and I hastily configured the aircraft and we pushed back without the necessary checklists being completed. By now I had had enough, and was planning my letter of resignation. During taxi out to the runway, all I could hear from this idiot behind me was come on hurry up, followed by more tutting and sighing.

Well, we made our slot and took off, once level in the cruise I handed over control to my co-pilot and took off my headset, and turned around to speak to this so called training captain that was sitting on the jump seat behind me.

“I have been flying for twenty five years, and deserve a bit more respect than what you are showing me. On our return to Milan I will decide if I am going to work for this company…..not you!” With that he shut up a bit, well until our approach into Ibiza anyway.

On final approach into Ibiza he said “You better do a smooth landing we carry people not animals.”

There was venom in his voice and attitude; fortunately my landing met his ‘high’ standards!

The next two sectors were to be flown by my co-pilot, but he was so nervous with being constantly bullied, that he screwed both landings up to the extent that I had to take over control and salvage the landings. His answer was “Good, this company can’t afford go-arounds”, a frightening concept to drill into pilots, and one that I considered wholly unacceptable.

On taxi out at Bergamo we were behind a Flightline Bae146, who my ‘training’ captain considered to be taxiing too slowly, “I hope he has an engine failure on take-off”, he shouted out…crazy, crazy, crazy attitude I thought. Do you know what, as this aircraft started its take-off roll, there was a large puff of smoke from one of its engines, and they rejected the take-off. This was met with the same glee from him as a cup final goal being scored in the 90th minute!

Well, I survived the day, but he never told me if I’d passed. This bully realised that I would not cowtie to him, and all he said was “Today I just wanted to see how much pressure I could put you under, and you did OK.”

****** I thought and flew home that evening to London. I telephoned my agent, and explained that I was considering resigning, but was talked out of it, as it was explained that I only had to fly with this guy once a year!

I have to admit it took me almost a week to calm down, and I am not exaggerating.

As a post note, we never exchanged Christmas cards!!!!!!