1. Please introduce yourself

My name is Nikolay Chalkanov, 9 years of experience as a First Officer Airbus 320. I am from Varna, Bulgaria.

2. Why did you decide to pursue a career as a Pilot?

It was a child dream. I wanted to be a military pilot, but later on I decided to join the civil aviation career path.

3. Could you tell us more about the training for a Pilot?

There are thousands of schools around the world. Basically, I decided to graduate an engineering degree in aviation initially. I did my bachelor degree in Aeronautics in a Technical University, later on during my study I joined a military project for building an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for the needs of the Bulgarian police and army.

Then I joined a private academy – Sofia Flight Training,  and I completed my pilot training. I obtained an ATPL (Airline Transport Pilot License), MCC/JetFam training, and Type Rating training for Airbus A320 aircraft.

The first one, ATPL, is the highest license, which proves you have completed all the modules, so that you are eligible to become a captain after certain hours of experience. It takes approximately 2 years of ground and flight training. You need to pass all the 14 theory subjects, like Aerodynamics, Navigation, Meteorology, Radio navigation, Airframe, and Engines Theory, etc. Then you need approx. 210-220 hours on Single engine and around 20 hours on Multi-engine propeller aircraft.

MCC/Jetfam stands for Multi crew cooperation and Jet aircraft familiarization training, which is a very short module. Usually, it takes 2 days in a Full flight Simulator with motion. It gives you the initial certification, so that you can continue your training on bigger Jet aircrafts like Airbus and Boeing.

After you have completed the above mentioned courses, you can continue with your particular aircraft training, such as Airbus, Boeing, Embraer . After the completion of the training, you are finally certified and you can start flying on this aircraft.

  1. What is the next step after completing the training? How to find a job as a pilot?

It is better if you start looking for a job before you complete your training. You can start as a flight attendant or some other position in the company administration. It’s much easier to move to a pilot position, once you are employee of the airline operator.

  1. How does the career path look like starting from the entry level positions?

You start your ground course in the airline initially. You have a lot of studies again – some special operations, low visibility training, aircraft systems reviews, company procedures, culture etc.

Later, you start the line training. You fly as an observer in the cockpit for around 40 flights. When you reach 60 flights with a very experienced Instructor captain, and based on your performance, you are released after a Line training Check to fly with regular captains.

  1. Prior to the pandemic, how many candidates were competing for the same vacancy? What is your prediction about when the aviation will get back to the pre-pandemic level?

Prior the pandemic there was almost no competition. Most of the companies were struggling to find pilots, both captains and first officers. There were lack of personnel. My prediction is by the end of 2023 the number of the pax will be the same as prior the covid outbreak.

  1. Could you please describe your tasks before, during, and after the flight?

We have to be at least one hour prior your departure time at the briefing room. We need to check your route, the weather conditions at the departure base, destination, and enroute. We check also all the relevant documents for the flight, the Aircraft technical condition, and we decide how much fuel we need.

We do the briefing with the crew – the flight crew and the cabin crew. We discuss as an open conversation all the details around the flight we are going to perform – departure slots, delays, on route conditions, like turbulence, if we have pax with medical conditions, etc.

Next, we go to the aircraft and we check the aircraft externally – tires, antennas, airframe, inlets, outlets, etc. Afterwards, we start preparing the aircraft for the flight, we switch on the systems, one by one, checking everything, as well as the maintenance papers and defects if any. Meanwhile, we are refueling the aircraft, the cabin crew in the back are checking the emergency and lifesaving equipment for damage or any malfunctions.

When everything is ready, we can start boarding the people. After boarding is completed and the baggage and cargo is loaded, we sign the papers and we can go. We take a startup clearance, and we start the engines. Then, we proceed to taxing , after clearance from the tower, to the holding point, and again after clearance, we are about to take off. During taxing, we have some checks to do, brakes, flight controls, radar systems, etc. After take off, we climb to a cleared Flight level, usually between 30 000 and 39 000 feet. Usually, about a minute after take off, we go to automatic mode of flying. During initial climb the workload is higher, we talk on the radio, we retract the gear and the flaps, we follow the departure procedures.

If everything goes well, we start climbing and we follow our route. If there is a problem and the conditions of the departure airport allow, we return back. During cruise we are more relieved and we only have to monitor the parameters of the flight. We have time to talk and drink coffee. But we have to fill in some documents as well, such as fuel checks, flight logs, etc.

During descending and approaching, the workload again gradually increases – usually at more busy airports, like Heathrow, Frankfurt, the density of the traffic is immense, so you have to listen very carefully on the radio and follow strictly the orders from the ATC.

During the final approach, we start configuring the aircraft for landing, extending flaps, gear, slowing down the speed gradually to reach the final approach speed at 4 miles before the touchdown zone. Next, we execute landing and taxing out to the gate, where we switch off the engines and disembark the pax. Finally, we fill in the after-flight documents, switch off everything and we are free to go home or the hotel for the rest period, which is also strictly regulated, by the law.

  1. How is the pilot’s paycheck being calculated – flying hours, basic salary, per diem, bonuses?

This is very individual, based on the company, the contract, the experience etc.

To find more about salary and benefits, you can have a look at the Commercial Pilot: Salary Guide

  1. Is it usual pilots to experience health problems because of the intense flying and changing conditions?

Sometimes, yes. If you can’t manage the stress properly, you are prone to a lot of bad illnesses, like diabetes, heart problems. You need to rest well, eat balanced diet, and workout a lot. The family environment is also vital, so that you go to work with your mind fresh.

  1. How many days per month do pilots spend at home?

Depends on your contract and what kind of flights you are doing. If you are a mid-range jet pilot in a scheduled company, almost every night you spend at home. If you are a long haul pilot, you will spend most of the time abroad. If you are a business or vip pilot, you have some months abroad, but afterwards you can stay, for example, 2 months at home. Charter companies are another story. In the summer periods you are busier, in the winter you don’t fly a lot and you spend more time at home.

  1. What is the retirement age for pilots?

65 years

  1. What do you like the most about working as a pilot?

The job is dynamic, challenging, and you have the opportunity to visit a lot of countries and places. On the other hand, you need to keep yourself in the best condition, physically and mentally.

  1. What you don’t like about the job?

Early shifts and the fact that you cannot have a normal sleeping pattern.

  1. What is the scariest situation you have had during a flight?

Lots of them, but the thing is to be in control of the situation, regardless of how scary it is. No panic, and no giving up.

  1. What would you say to all the people who are afraid of flying?

That the systems, the procedures, and the staff training of the good companies are on a skyrocket level.