Non-Rev Flights


Although you are a passenger airline pilot, do you often have to make non-revenue flights and how do they differ?

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roster – a list or plan showing turns of duty or leave for individuals in an organization

to divert – to change course or turn from one direction to another

to ferry – to fly an aircraft for the purpose of returning to base, delivery to a customer, moving from one base of operations to another or moving to or from a maintenance facility for maintenance, repair, and operations

inevitably – as is certain to happen; unavoidably

to deadhead – to transport a certificate holder by another plane between airports

to deviate – to depart from an established course

to be used to sth/doing sth = to be familiar with sth/to be accustomed to sth 

! Don’t confuse it with ‘used to do‘ which means that sth existed or happened repeatedly in the past (Check out a video)

nor is there – inversion

If a word/phrase with a negative meaning like neither or nor is standing first in a sentence, there occurs inversion, so that the verb or auxiliary precedes the subject. Other examples of such words/phrases are never, scarcely, hardly (ever), not until, seldom, rarely, only if/when, etc. Ex.: Not until the GPWS warning went off did the pilots realised they were off course. ever Only when you get an ICAO certificate will you become eligible for a pilot job.

crews are expected to cover – complex subject

Ex.: They were supposed to undergo a de-icing procedure. or The airport turned out to be closed for weeks. or The flights are reported to have been canceled due weather. 

I’ve got to admit, most of my flights are with passengers and cargo onboard. But every once in a while something unusual pops up in the roster offering a bit of a change from daily routine. Like, for instance, an assignment to take part in a flight crew base training. You know, it’s a flight with no passengers onboard when trainee pilots are invited to a real airplane for the first time and are tasked to perform multiple touch-and-go’s and missed approaches under the guidance and supervision of a type-rating instructor and a safety pilot.

Or there might be an assignment to re-position an aircraft from another airport (suppose it had to divert to an alternate airport due to weather the other night or is being used for charter purposes by your airline).

Speaking of non-rev flights, a couple of months ago I was to ferry a 737 to a maintenance base. And it turned out to be quite an exciting and little odd experience. For one thing, with no payload onboard whatsoever, the aircraft was to be flown at an unusually low operating weight. So, it was giving me a completely different feeling in terms of handling and overall performance. I’d say it required much less effort on rotation, it climbed like a rocket and the approach speeds were way lower than I personally had been used to.

Besides, on such flights standard preflight flows and procedures inevitably tend to get affected, or even interrupted. For example, there is no passenger boarding, no standard reports from the cabin crew, and the timing of the entire preflight process goes beyond the usual pattern. Nor is there anybody to control passenger door closing and opening. Not a big deal, of course, but it’s also a little something extra that makes the difference.

Cruising aloft at altitude is pretty much the same, except perhaps that you don’t need to secure the cockpit door and keep it locked throughout the flight. Oh, and if you feel like grabbing a bite, you’ll have to get out of your seat and go warm up your lunch all by yourself because again – no cabin crew.

Well, we made it smoothly to the maintenance site, handed over the airplane and in a couple of hours deadheaded back to the base on the company’s regular flight.

So, to recap: non-rev flights, no doubt, are a nice break from the daily routine for a passenger airline pilot. You definitely feel more relaxed throughout the work shift, less time-pressed or burdened by formalities of needing to interact with passengers. But on the other hand, you’ve got to stay alert for obvious safety risks: the airplane’s behavior is far from being usual, plus there is a fair chance of deviating from standard flight procedures. It is my strong belief that on such flights the pre-flight prep should be even more thorough, at least the flight crews are expected to cover these extra threats at the departure briefing and consider the ways which we can use to mitigate them.

Extra Questions:

  1. What type of flights did the pilot mention?
  2. In what way is the performance affected when flying with no passengers or cargo on board?
  3. What are the safety risks when dealing with unusual operational assignments?

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