The A380 is the biggest airliner in the world and must be considered the epitome of a pilot's career. I posed this question to the two A380 training captains. At the beginning of an exclusive interview I did with them back in 2018, they said, "Yes!"

Since the retirement of the last of the airline's Boeing 737s in 2016 all pilots start on short-haul sectors. The cost of training a pilot on new hardware makes it hard for pilots to switch between co-pilot and captain. The transition usually involves graduating from the short haul A320 fleet to the long haul A330 or A380.

Half of the carrier's A380 fleet will not be reactivated after the Coronaviruses shutdown, which requires a pool of appropriately380 pilots. The A380 pilot group is made up of around one-third captains and two-thirds first officers due to the fact that most sectors are operated by a captain and two first officers.

The captain is in the bunk for crew rest while half of the first officers are ranked as senior first officers and designated as acting pilot-in-command. The most junior pilots are expected to be able to operate and land the aircraft alone. Additional duties are included in training for the rank of senior first officer.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Konstantin von Wedelstaedt

Common Cockpit of Airbus

Fly-by-wire technology has been used to iron out differences in the cockpit of the entire range of products. The A318 to A380 are considered different types with different type-ratings and can be flown using Crew Cross Qualification. Only a Differences course is needed for a pilot to transition to a new variant in a short period of time.

The A380 cockpit is home to any pilot who has flown an EADS plane before. Traditionally the first step in learning to fly a new type would be in a procedural trainer, which eliminates motion and visuals as an unnecessary expense and allows students to focus on the location of switches and buttons and their function inside the cockpit. A lot of time is spent learning to navigate the flight management system computers and their complex network of functions.

Lufthansa A380 Pilot Course

The carrier operates just one full-motion six-axis A380 simulator, located at the airline's wholly-owned training subsidiary in Frankfurt, due to the fact that many pilots transition from other versions of the plane. The simulator is called a Class D, Zero Time, because pilots are not required to fly any hours in the real aircraft in order to get a type-rating and be ready to fly with passengers.

The syllabus was created with the help of the German aviation authority. Two to three days of classroom instruction are required after the equivalent of five days of self-study. There are sessions in the high-pressure environment of the simulation.

Each session lasts four hours and a typical pilot will be in the sim for four sessions to learn the skills required for his/her basic type training. There are three sessions for Line Oriented Flight Training which aim to recreate real-life airline operations. After completing the course, you can be signed off to Zero Flight Time Training level.

They said they couldn't tell the difference between the simulation and the real aircraft. The evolution of aircraft has been mirrored in simulation technology. Handling, motion, systems replication and visuals are state-of- the-art.

There is an extra classroom day and two extra sessions in the simulator for pilots who don't have any experience with the company. Control inputs that are computerised will stop the aircraft from exceeding the flight envelope. If a pilot stalls the aircraft or banks it beyond a certain roll angle, the system will protect it.

A380 Operation Details

509 passengers and 22 cabin crew are included in the maximum take-off weight for the A380s. Even when hand-flying the aircraft, the weight can't be seen. The A380 is very precise and fast. The large control surfaces on the wings and tail make the A380 move like a smaller plane. The large wing results in a low wing loading compared with smaller machines such as the A320. This ensures that the type has favorable handling characteristics and a relatively slow landing speed.

The main gear of the A380 has 20 wheels on four trucks which spread the weight and the energy needed to decelerate. The A380 can stop on short runways, so the crew can accept arrivals on the shortest runways.

There is a system that controls the brakes after a touchdown. It is programmed ahead of time with the taxiway turnoff that is desired and will apply smooth and uniform braking to bring the aircraft down to a walking pace by the time it reaches that exit Passengers don't have to worry about sudden high-energy braking. It can mean a shorter turn around.

The ground handling and other aspects of the A380 are part of the training program. The larger the number of passengers, the more likely a flight will need a medical diversion. Communication between the cabin and the flight deck and between the aircraft and medical professionals on the ground are important.

A medical diversion is expensive in terms of fuel and handling fees, as well as being disruptive to operations, as it means a late arrival at the final destination. It can lead to a stranded aircraft and the need for hundreds of hotel rooms for passengers and air crew. There are issues with the A380. The aircraft are categorized based on their ground handling requirements. The A380 has a wingspan of more than 200 feet and a span between the outer main gear wheels of over 45 feet. There are still limited Code F airfields around the world. Important elements of the ground operation may be missing, such as taxiway width, parking space, de-icing capability, fuel availability, and steps high enough to reach the A380's doors, if an emergency arises at a lower category airfield. The presence of an A380 might cause the airport to be closed.

Depending on the severity of the emergency the diversion airfield has to be chosen with extreme care. The scale of the A380 operation makes the captain a manager.

The job of a type rating instructor is to teach pilots how to fly a plane. A training sortie in a real A380 is needed. The A380 performs circuits and touch-and-go landings. An extra pilot rides in the jump seat to watch the flight. Due to the size of the A380, a quiet airfield is needed for training. Depending on weather and airfield activity on the day, the airports that have been used for A380 training are Halle and Leipzig. Five circuits are needed to release a TRI. The TRI flies from the right seat, with either Lenz or Pruess in the left seat. Once a TRI is qualified, they will fly in the right-hand seat when reviewing a potential captain.

The A380s flew to fewer destinations than any other type in the fleet. The lack of variety might deter pilots from joining the fleet. The destinations are all attractive and pilots are queueing up to do so. New routes are not easy to change and seats are sold a year in advance. It helps achieve a work life balance by giving stability to a pilot's roster.

The pilot about to start training on the A380 is in need of some advice. Don't compare It's just an airplane at the end of the day. You can fly it as you please. The flight instruments are the same no matter how advanced the technology is behind the panel or how large the plane is behind you. Take care of the speed with the pitch and power.

The greatest achievement of the designers and engineers may be that normal flight rules apply.

Lufthansa Airbus A380 Storage