As a SWISS pilot, Tina Schwabe has been flying our guests across Europe since 2015 and has been doing so on our Airbus A220 since June 2017. In 2016, SWISS was the first airline worldwide to put the A220 into service, setting new standards in terms of environmental compatibility, efficiency and comfort. Now, five years later, we are awaiting the arrival of our thirtieth A220, which, like all our other models, is manufactured near Montreal. On this occasion, we wanted to know from Tina how such a modern aircraft flies, why it is so special and how an aircraft delivery actually takes place.
Dear Tina, you have been flying our A220 for almost four years. How does such a modern aircraft feel for you pilots?
It flies great! The nice thing is that despite its modern systems and advanced automation (for example, in terms of efficient approach design, fly-by-wire or support and monitoring systems), you can fly the A220 like an older type of aircraft. By this I mean, for example, the Avro RJ, the A220 predecessor model at SWISS, which I also flew. The A220 was designed in such a way that the human being is the centre of attention and that it can be flown manually in a very agile manner with optimal support from these modern systems, which is of course a great pleasure.
What are the special features of the A220?
There are a few. In the history of aviation, the focus of safety development was first on the machine and then on the human being, but now the focus has shifted to the cooperation of both. This means that we pilots always have the decision-making power, but are optimally supported by the aircraft. Furthermore, the A220 has been optimally designed for its area of operation: for a short-haul aircraft, it has a very good range, despite its cargo loading capabilities and the total weight of the guests. From Switzerland, for example, it can fly fully loaded to Marrakech, Cairo or Tel Aviv. At the same time, it can also land on very short and narrow runways such as London City and Florence. With regard to London City, it is worth mentioning the particularly steep approach for which the A220 is also certified – there are very few aircraft types that can do this. So it can be used in many different ways. Another particularly positive aspect is its environmental record.
Speaking of environmental performance, the A220 plays an important innovative role within our entire fleet. Can you explain again why?
Together with the A320neo, which we put into service at the beginning of 2020, we have reached the absolute cutting edge of technology. Of course, this benefits both environmental compatibility and economic efficiency. The A220’s engines with an extreme bypass ratio are particularly noteworthy. This so-called “high bypass fan” technology allows the required thrust to be provided more efficiently. Compared to previous models, this results in significantly lower fuel consumption and thus lower CO2 emissions to the same extent (over 20% reduction). The lightweight materials used in individual parts of the aircraft also play their part. This reduced amount of CO2 corresponds to approximately 7,000 flights between Zurich and London City per year.
And speaking of innovations, what do our guests appreciate about our A220s? Do you get any feedback on this?
There is a lot of good feedback, mostly directly to our cabin crew. Our guests find the atmosphere inside the cabin very pleasant, for example because of the comfortable seats, which also provide more legroom. The larger windows also make the cabin brighter and the room height gives the feeling of more space. I am always happy when I fly as a guest on the A220 and enjoy it very much.
In 2017, you were part of the delivery of the ninth A220. How does such an aircraft acceptance on site in Canada look like?
The acceptance and the actual test flights on site are carried out by a technical SWISS team consisting of an acceptance pilot and colleagues from engineering, for example for the final check of the cabin. If everything is in order, a transfer team from Zurich takes over to fly the brand-new aircraft “home”; in 2017 I was fortunate enough to be part of this crew.
An aircraft takeover and the flyover are very special experiences and for me it was an incredible honour, as it will certainly remain a unique and memorable event in the course of my career. I was allowed to personally perform the take-off at the aircraft factories in Mirabel. Of course, the first own flight across the Atlantic was also very special, something most pilots only experience with the long-haul qualification. The landing in Zurich was also an absolute highlight, the icing on the cake, so to speak, operated by the captain.
The A220 is a short-haul aircraft. How does it manage to fly from Canada to Switzerland?
In terms of range, it’s absolutely no problem, because we bring the aircraft home almost empty without any additional weight such as guests or cargo, so we can fly very far. When we arrived in Zurich on my delivery flight, we would still have had enough kerosene in the tank for about two more hours of flying. Only the flight route is a bit special, because for a short-haul aircraft you always have to be able to reach an airport within an hour, which is of course not so easy over the Atlantic. Therefore, the overflight route leads over northern Canada, Greenland, Iceland and finally via Scotland to central Europe.
How does it feel to be the first to fly a brand new aircraft?
It’s a very special feeling, almost a little surreal. Several pilots have sat in the seats of the predecessor model Avro RJ100 before me; with the A220 I was the first. Knowing that you can be the first to operate the sidestick and press the buttons is also very impressive and makes you look out humbly from time to time during the cruise flight to Zurich. A great privilege, which is underpinned by the great views over Greenland and Iceland.
What happens after the plane lands “at home” in Zurich?
That totally depends on the occasional festivities. Sometimes there is a welcome by the airport fire brigade with water fountains. After landing and parking in front of the hangar, the aircraft is handed over to customs and, after successful customs clearance, can usually enter scheduled service a few days later. Depending on the aircraft, it may be baptised beforehand, as it will be the case with our thirtieth A220. But I won’t reveal the name yet.
What is your most memorable experience related to the A220?
There are so many wonderful memories and flights that it is difficult for me to choose but the delivery flight is certainly the highlight. The landing training, the first real landing on the aircraft in “real life” instead of in the simulator, is also always present. Other great experiences include approaches to idyllic destinations such as Sylt or the Greek islands, or a winter approach to Kittilä/Finland on a snow-covered runway. I also have many pleasant and interesting memories of London City Airport.