He may attract a lot of looks when he’s in his pilot’s uniform, but SWISS First Officer Andreas Leemann is clearly one of life’s more modest individuals. It’s with a passion in his eyes, though, that this 32-year-old relates how he came to his dream job. In fact, dream jobs would be more accurate. After earning his Swiss baccalaureate, Andreas fulfilled his boyhood ambition and became a train driver. Yet somehow, the view from the loco cab just wasn’t enough. And when he had the chance to take a cockpit flight with a pilot friend eight years ago, the case was clear: he had to be a pilot, too!
The prop aircraft he had largely known during his practical training became a 38-metre-long commercial airliner with a top speed of 850 kilometres per hour: the Airbus A320. “Today we’re flying to Barcelona. I love taking it south best,” Andreas adds. “For the views of the Alps!”
With a 75 per cent employment contract with SWISS and a 25 per cent position still at the Swiss Federal Railways, Andreas has the privilege of working at both his dream jobs. “Combining the two works out really well,” he enthuses. “As long as I can get about nine hours of sleep and can balance it all out with some sports activities!” And so, fit for the flight ahead, he enters the briefing room just before 11 a.m. And here’s the proof that a pilot’s job is about so much more than just flying an aircraft from A to B. Pilots are mathematicians, physicists, meteorologists and managers all rolled into one. Not only are there routings, airport maps and weather forecasts to study and interpret; Andreas is also responsible for collating all the information relating to the upcoming flight, to discuss this in detail with his flight deck colleague, Commander Marcel Amherd.
At 11.30 a.m. it’s time to brief the crew on the flying time, the likely weather en route and any other details. Then it’s through the security checkpoint and onto the bus that will take the crew out to their aircraft. Zurich Airport is feeling the start of the holiday season, too: departures are being delayed by the sheer volume of flights – factors that pilots are powerless to influence. “Days like this are tough,” Andreas concedes, “especially for the cabin crew. They have hardly any time to grab even a bite to eat.”
“Take off – you have control.” – “I have control. ”While the outbound flight to Barcelona was performed by Marcel, it’s Andreas who’s flying the aircraft on the inbound leg. The take offs and landings, being manually performed, demand particular concentration here, along with total teamwork. The clouds drift past the cockpit windows; radio contact is steadily maintained with the controllers on the ground; and after some 15 minutes we have reached
our cruising altitude of almost 12,000 metres. When Andreas and Marcel talk about their profession, it’s not just a powerful passion that comes across but a keen sense of pride as well. And rightly so: day in, day out they’re expected to deliver a top-notch performance that entails huge responsibilities, yet has become almost a given among air travelers today.
“It’s true,” Marcel concedes. “But that’s what makes it all the nicer when someone does thank you for their flight.” Shortly before Zurich, our approach takes us over Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and their mighty mountain neighbours. It’s a phenomenal spectacle, and one that leaves even these seasoned pilots awed. “Moments like these are just priceless,”
Andreas sighs. They also confirm just why he’s so smitten by his flying career… and what he meant by the “views of the Alps”!
Welcome to the sunny side of life!
Ask the pilot: Is there much difference between flying by day and at night?
All scheduled flights are basically conducted under instrument flight rules, i.e. with the help of the avionics on board and the air traffic controllers on the ground, so they aren’t really affected by the time of day or the current visibility conditions. It’s harder to see storm clouds at night, of course; but here we can draw on our on-board weather radar, which will warn us of any bad weather ahead in good time.
We also have to bear in mind that in coastal regions, when darkness falls and the land cools down, the local winds will change direction: what have been sea breezes during the day (blowing in from the sea) will become land breezes blowing out to sea at night. This will affect any landings or takeoffs in such regions, as these are always performed into the wind.
In addition to the weather factors that we have to consider at night, there are some human factors to bear in mind, too. When it’s dark the body feels more of a need to sleep and recuperate. And to pay due regard to this we have different Flight Duty Regulations for the night-time hours.
So there are some challenges; but they are all ones that can be easily met and mastered. Night flights have their special appeal, too: a clear starry night and the moonshine on the mountains can be quite an amazing sight!
Text: Valérie Ziegler / Photos: Jennifer Ries