Summer course 2 - August 2016 - Difficult group - Lesson 8
- Oh, there you are! It's about time, isn't it?
- Hi... I'm so sorry I didn't make it to the meeting. The traffic was horrendous!
- Isn't it always the case?
- It is. But today was something else! Total gridlock!
- That was my first guess! But it was something far more unusual. It was even on the radio!
- At first they said there was a vehicle blocking both lanes.
- Dear lord, was there a crash?
- Thank goodness, nothing like that. Turns out, there was a double-decker parked across the road, and a naked man playing a piano accordion in front of it.
- What got into him?
- Apparently, he was on strike against pay cuts.
- What a nutjob!
Interviewer With me in the studio today I have two pilots, Richard and Steven, who are going to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about flying and air travel. Hello to both of you.
Interviewer Right, the first question is what weather conditions are the most dangerous when flying a plane?
Steven Probably the most dangerous weather conditions are when the wind changes direction very suddenly. This tends to happen during thunderstorms and typhoons and it's especially dangerous during take-off and landing. But it's quite unusual — I've been flying for 37 years now and I've only experienced this three or four times.
Interviewer Is all turbulence dangerous?
Steven No, in fact it's not normally dangerous. Pilots know when to expect turbulence and we try to avoid it by changing routes or flight levels.
Interviewer Which is more dangerous, take-off or landing?
Richard Both take-off and landing can be dangerous. They're the most critical moments of a flight. Pilots talk about the `critical eight minutes' — the three minutes after take-off and the five minutes before landing. Most accidents happen in this period.
Steven I would say take-off is probably slightly more dangerous than landing. There is a critical moment just before take off when the plane is accelerating, but it hasn't yet reached the speed to be able to fly. If the pilot has a problem with the plane at this point, he has very little time — maybe only a second — to abort the take off.
Interviewer Passengers often think that putting on seat belts in a plane is really a waste of time. Is that true?
Richard Not at all. When the plane is moving on the ground and the pilot suddenly puts the brakes on, passengers can be thrown out of their seats, just like in a car. But more importantly, during the flight if there is sudden and severe turbulence, you could be thrown all over the cabin if you aren't wearing your seat belt. That's why airlines usually recommend you wear your belt even when the seat belt light is off.
Interviewer Should we really listen to the safety information?
Steven It's definitely worth listening to the information about emergency exits. If there's a fire on a plane, it may be dark and the plane will be full of smoke and fumes. So listening to where the exits are and working out which one is the nearest exit to you might save your life. Most aircrew can even tell you where the emergency exits are in the hotels where they stay.
Interviewer What about life jackets?
Richard Fortunately, planes very rarely have to land in the sea, but to be honest the chances of surviving if your plane did crash into the sea are not high.
Interviewer Are some airports more dangerous than others?
Steven Yes, some are — particularly airports with high mountains around them and airports in countries with older or more basic navigation equipment. Richard For some difficult airports like, let's say Kathmandu, they only allow very experienced pilots to land there. And for some of these airports pilots have to practise on a simulator first before they are given permission to land a plane there.
Interviewer How important is it for pilots and controllers to have good clear English?
Steven It's the official language of the air, so obviously it's vital for pilots and controllers to have good English. To be honest, it doesn't always happen.
Richard And apart from people's English not being good, some countries don't respect the convention and don't force their pilots to speak in English. But most of them do, luckily.
Interviewer Have you ever had a problem with a famous person as a passenger?
Richard I've carried a lot of famous people and they are usually very well behaved. But I remember once I had the actor Steven Seagal as a passenger —and the cabin crew told me that he had just got on board and he was carrying an enormous samurai sword. Weapons aren't allowed on board, of course, so I had to go and speak to him. He looked very imposing standing in the cabin. He was nearly two metres tall, dressed completely in black, carrying a sword and he is — as you probably know — a martial arts expert. But in fact he was very happy to give us the sword, which was gold and which had been given to him as a present in Bali.
Interviewer What's your most frightening experience as a pilot?
Steven Crossing the road outside the airport terminal! That's certainly the most dangerous thing I do. Probably in connection with flying, my most frightening experience would have to be a near miss I had when I was flying a Boeing 747 at night. A small aeroplane passed in the opposite direction just 15 metres below my plane. Just after this happened, a flight attendant brought us some hot snacks and I distinctly remember how good they tasted!
Interviewer Have you ever been taken ill during a flight?
Richard Once I was flying from Hong Kong to London, that's a 13-hour flight, and I got food poisoning after six hours. I felt terrible —incapable of doing anything at all for the rest of the flight. Luckily though, the rest of the crew were fine, because on all flights the crew are given different meals, just in case. So as my co-pilots had eaten a different meal and felt fine, the flight was able to continue safely.