Etihad Airways’ A380 simulator
Elizabeth Ingram takes the controls on an Etihad Airways’ A380 simulator Discuss this article
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Flying an aeroplane, I thought, was never conceivable. I’m trained to design magazines, which does not require excellent knowledge of physics, or a rather dashing uniform.
I am already familiar with the airline industry as I’m married to a commercial pilot and have seen first-hand the dedication required to fly a plane, and the endless, unsociable hours of studying for the flight simulator, otherwise known as “the sim”. To me, "the sim" means the chances of us having a weekend off together are non-existent. Hubby’s head will be buried in books for weeks on end, while the dining table becomes a desk full of perplexing diagrams, note paper and highlighter pens. Every six months, we resort to eating dinner off our laps throughout the sim study period. So I think it’s high time I saw it from my husband’s point of view and find out why this part of his training turns him into a recluse.
Etihad Airways has kindly arranged for me to fly an A380, thankfully not the actual Dhs1.5billion aircraft with passengers. Instead, I will be taking control of one of the Dhs62million A380 sims, to understand what Etihad’s pilots go through during training. Even so, that is still a lot of money... No pressure, then.
I meet my coach for the day, Captain André Cossette, a simulator assessor and A380 type rating instructor. He was part of the first batch of pilots hired when Etihad was formed in 2003 and has been with them ever since, after moving with his family from Montreal to Abu Dhabi. Cossette is part of the incredible team that constantly updates these mammoth pieces of technology. If there has been an incident in the airline industry, Cossette makes sure the sim can replicate this event, allowing the pilots to understand why it happened and prevent it from happening again. This is why flying is still one of the safest forms of transport and I’m definitely in the most capable of hands.
Before being given full control of an aircraft full of passengers, commercial pilots will train for at least three months to earn their Etihad Airways wings. The sim is an exact replica of the A380 flight deck and as I sit in the first officer’s seat, the nerves start to build. Cossette safely closes the doors and starts the sim, which I feel lifting into position. Through the cockpit windows I can see we are at Abu Dhabi airport, ready for take-off. Even though this is only a projection, I feel like I’m sitting on the real runway. The noise levels are also the same as the A380, which is surprisingly quiet for such a gigantic craft. I can hear the whirring of the four Rolls-Royce engines as if they really are behind me, and in my control.
Cossette prepares for take-off and I have one instruction: to tilt the nose up towards the sky using the joystick to my right.
To help with this I’m shown the most important instrument – the primary flight display – which is directly in front of me, giving me the correct angle for lift-off.
The joystick is just one piece of equipment in this cockpit that I find incredible. This small gizmo, which would look more at home attached to a ’90s games console, can control the direction of a plane that weighs 560 tonnes – the equivalent of 80 adult elephants. All of this control is currently in my right hand, the one normally used for pointing, clicking, dragging and drawing during my day job. As we speed down the rumbling runway, the simulator shakes with the familiar take-off motion. I’m given the order to “rotate” and I pull back firmly on the joystick, to then feel the simulator lift back and us smoothly (if I do say so myself) take off.
Once airborne, it’s time to take in the views of a virtual Abu Dhabi. It’s a typical sunny day and on my right we see the iconic red roof of Ferrari World and roads filled with moving cars. We then pass Abu Dhabi Corniche and I’m instructed to bank to the left, feeling the simulator turn steeply. We pass Aldar headquarters and later over the desert. As we prepare to turn back to land, Cossette uses a tablet to show me different flight scenarios used during training. Weirdly, he pauses us mid-air, the motion instantly stops, which is a strange sensation my brain struggles to comprehend. The sim’s windows now display night time and we can see the runway lights flashing in the distance. We then experience what it’s like to land at minimum visibility through thick fog and also heavy rain.
After landing, I feel a little dizzy from the motion, despite having only been in the sim for an hour. Commercial pilots have to experience this, as we mentioned, for a minimum of three months, as well as contending with simulated bad weather, engine failures, fires and more.
I now have a clearer understanding as to why pilots continually learn on this astonishing piece of kit. The next time my husband studies for his sim check, I’ll be a bit more forgiving. Though maybe now it’s time for him to test his artistic skills and design a copy of Time Out Abu Dhabi, while I fly off to Sydney in my A380.
Four to try
on Etihad Airways A380
The Residence by Etihad
Why fly First Class when you can have your own private suite at 30,000 feet? Experience the ultimate in flying luxury on the A380 with your own living room, bathroom and bedroom on the upper deck. You will even have your own Etihad Airways Butler, trained at the Savoy Butler Academy in London.
Five-star bespoke dining
Etihad Airways’ on-board chefs, many of whom hail from fine-dining establishments worldwide, are on hand to prepare a bespoke dining experience for A380 passengers travelling First Class. Who said you can’t get decent in-flight food?
Watch Premiership football
Business Class and First Class passengers will never miss a live match on the A380 as they can now grab a front-row seat on one of the comfy leather sofas in The Lobby, a luxurious lounge between the two sections. If watching your beloved team has made you thirsty then don't worry, as there’s a staffed bar serving hot and cold drinks.
Who said Mary Poppins was the only nanny who could fly? Trained at the world renowned Norland College, Etihad’s Flying Nannies are available to help parents entertain and look after children on all the airline’s long-haul flights. Dedicated to helping families entertain their little ones, they have special childcare programmes full of fun activities and games.
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