Philipp Spoerli (Airbus A330/340 First Officer) was part of the cockpit crew piloting our inaugural flight from Zurich to Beijing. We asked him some questions about inaugural flights, the flight to Beijing and more.
Christian: You and your cockpit crew transported us on the first SWISS flight to Beijing? How was this flight for you?
Philipp: The flight to Beijing was impressive indeed, especially when one considers how much history is associated with this city and also because this was the first SWISS flight to Beijing since 2003. Even though SWISS was in financial difficulty at the time, it is difficult from today’s perspective to comprehend the decision to cease flying to such a booming destination in China. So it’s all that much nicer that we have returned.
C: What was the flight like in terms of vision, and did you learn anything new during the flight?
P: The route to Beijing is pretty familiar to us because it takes us over much of the same territory as the route to Shanghai. The approach into Beijing was special, simply because of the heavy traffic and huge airport. After landing, we had to taxi for a good 20 minutes before we reached our designated parking position.
Vision was basically satisfactory, about 4 kilometres, which by Beijing standards is all right. It was very cold, minus 9 degrees, when we landed. The air was very dry and there was not much smog. We were informed by the locals that this was an exception. But it was still dark because we arrived early in the morning, which meant that we could not see much aside from an impressive sea of lights.
C: What is special about a first flight?
P: A first flight is special for various reasons. For one thing, such flights have considerable potential for media coverage. In the case of Beijing this was certainly true. All of Switzerland was interested in the start of an additional non-stop service to China, particularly the capital city. Consequently, there were many high-ranking guests from the world of politics and business and our own CEO on board. The flying crew was particularly delighted to be visited by Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard at take-off in Zurich. We were able to show her the take-off procedure and departure from Runway 16, which is rather unusual in that it requires us to make a turn to the east while still relatively close to the ground in order to comply with various noise restrictions.
Presenting the flags of China and Switzerland from the cockpit window as we pushed back for departure from Zurich and when we docked in Beijing was a very nice moment for us as it symbolised the hope for an intensive and fruitful partnership. The reception upon deboarding in Beijing was overwhelming. Every member of the crew was presented with a bouquet of flowers and a good-luck dragon doll.(“Glücksdrachen-Puppe”) The press conference followed in the afternoon and the gala dinner in the evening, at which the entire crew appeared in uniform together with our CEO.
C: Did you rehearse the approach to Beijing in a flight simulator?
P: Flying into another destination does not generally require special simulator training. But it does require thorough preparation to familiarise yourself with the airport infrastructure, the approach routes and any special aspects regarding the geographic and characteristics of the country.
C: Did you know what to expect in terms of infrastructure etc.?
P: Dispatch and our support units provide us with the most up-to-date documentation, which we are able to study either before or during the flight. So we are well prepared regarding what to expect when we land at a location for the first time.
C: What did you do to prepare?
P: Prior to a flight every pilot prepares for the next rotation in their own way. At check-in in Zurich a thorough briefing is held at Dispatch and among the cockpit crew members. In the case of the Beijing flight we were a three-person crew because of the long flying time. It is important that all three crew members have the same level of information when they board the aircraft. Shortly before departure the cockpit crew informs the cabin crew of the flight’s procedure. For this first flight the briefings naturally took longer than usual.
C: Is there anything else you would like to mention regarding this first flight?
P: I really hope that this new route is a success. I think Switzerland has long had a special relationship with China. For our airline, routes of such political significance will be of great importance in future. Nevertheless, any new start is challenging. We hope to obtain more attractive departure and arrival slots in China. And we also hope that as many people travelling between China and Switzerland in either direction will take notice of us and choose to fly with us.
C: Thank you very much, and many happy landings!