September 30, 2023

Chris and Margaret in the cockpit flying direct London to Ercan in a simulator

By Captain Koray Yilmaz …
University of Kyrenia …

The past 100 years of thrilling aviation can be divided into three major eras. The first and foremost was the technical era, where major incidents and accidents were mainly attributed to technical errors related to aircraft design and manufacturing imperfections.

As such, the hot topic of the time was improving technical deficiencies in order to enhance safety, and progress was only witnessed by the 1950s.

The second era was the human factors era, being the main actor in air transport accidents up until the 1990s. By then, technical issues were pretty much minimised thanks to the implementation of safety related regulations and technical advancements. At the time, man-machine interface played a  significant role in aircraft accidents. As aircraft got larger, systems were only manageable with the combined effort of multiple crew members (pilots, flight engineers, and loadmasters). This simply brought forward another vulnerable area for safety, the human to human interaction, and still continues to date.

The third era has been the organisational era and has provided means of taking a generalised approach to safety related matters. In the past, lessons were only learned from accidents that already occurred and, even then, only those individuals involved in the accident were investigated to find guilt. The organisational era is clinical in ensuring that every step in the line that led to an accident is carefully evaluated, from management level at the top, all the way down to flight crews at the bottom before any sensible consensus is reached to the root cause of an accident. Rather than asking ‘who’, the industry started asking ‘how’ and ‘why’, eliminating the blame game to some extent.  In addition, airlines are now able to form collaborative partnerships in carrying out risk assessments to identify hazards and threats long before they might pose a danger in practice. In accordance with the current legislations, each operator is enforced to establish a Safety Management System, going far beyond what quality management systems used to try and tackle in the past. Furthermore, employees are encouraged to use a confidential reporting system as part of the Safety Management System within their organisation to report anything and everything that they may consider to be a threat.

Eventually, this led to the development of Crew Resource Management (CRM), imposing commercial operators to invest time and money on training employees involved in multi crew environment. The natural instinct by the older and experienced generation of pilots was to challenge the change. However, matters got further complicated with very young pilots stepping in the business without any military or civilian flying background. The rise in passenger numbers required higher numbers of aircraft to be manufactured, and as technology progressed, new aircraft came along with more fuel efficient engines and airframes, not disregarding the big leap in avionics. Better technology in the cockpit brought the inevitable opportunity to relax the once very strict pilot requirements,  allowing average individuals to land their dream job with some extra effort and commitment. The resultant clash of the relatively old but experienced guy with tens of thousands of flying hours under his belt, with the very young newbie without any commercial flying experience formed the optimum gateway to conflicts of interests in some of the most difficult working environments you can ever think of.

On the other hand, state of the art engineering masterpiece new aircraft turned out gave full confidence to aircraft manufacturers, so much so that they started declaring more than 99% confidence in their product provided no human error was involved during operations. In simple terms, if an aircraft was to have an accident, the probability of the cause of the crash attributed to design and manufacturing imperfections would only be less than 1%. You might think this is bold, but take a look at the statistics and you will find yourself in for a surprise.

Each cockpit and cabin crew member operating on a commercial aircraft is now obliged to attend a CRM course given to them by their airline, with annual recurrent training to follow. Although the bulk of the course could be provided by Computer Based Training techniques, interactive classroom teaching is of the essence in order to enhance understanding and empathy between different crew members.

Pilots are renowned to be the brave guys of our skies with steel nerves, but they only hit the nail on the head if they are flexible and analytical enough to handle all sorts of problems, that might pop-up out of the ordinary, in a calm and clinical manner. Building up strategies to a problem, whilst making use of the abilities of the entire crew is also a fundamental asset a pilot should possess. For a young pilot, integration into the sophisticated environment of systems and procedures in the cockpit is achieved by obeying the Standard Operating Procedures, working hard to improve their communication skills between crew members and Air Traffic Control Units, and finally guiding themselves to a non-hesitation zone when observing the limitations of their aircraft, meteorology and most importantly the limits of themselves.

The contact with Chris Elliott and Margaret Sheard resulted in some enjoyable time spent in the Flight Simulator followed by a request to fly direct from Stansted to Ercan.  Although I could foresee this as a very ambitious exercise, I considered it to be a good one and set about planning this flight for them.

Chris’s ambition to break the embargo, albeit in a flight simulator, turned into reality thanks to careful planning and patience. The flight was delayed by a few weeks due to periodic maintenance on the simulator and other obligations of the crew.

The duty allocation of our flight was made as Chris Elliott as the Pilot in Command, Margaret Sheard as the First Officer and Captain Koray Yilmaz as an observer in the back seat. We also had Mr. Turan Tömay onboard filming us and taking shots of great value.

The entirety of the flight turned out to be a very tiring, yet a very fruitful endeavour in the end which witnessed Chris and Margaret enhance their basic understanding of flight instruments and overall operational aspects of a given flight from point A to B. Their brief encounter at the controls during earlier visits surely helped them feel more comfortable this time around on a more complete flight including everything from preflight briefing to checklists, inflight duties, descent and approach preparations, landing and postflight briefings. One thing that perhaps Margaret and Chris wasn’t prepared for must have been the mental and physical management of a very long flight on a simulated Piper Seminole aircraft which cruised between 120-140kts throughout the whole journey, but already knowing the passion of both crew members towards flying, it wasn’t a surprise to see them fly the whole flight in joy and inspiration. There were times when I personally had to leave the crew alone for other duties with Turan who was so kind to film the whole event, but Margaret and Chris were very alert watching all the instruments and keeping a calm headed discussion between themselves to question different parameters and fluctuations. This reflected to me the fact that with some formal theoretical or practical flight training, they would definitely form an ideal team to tackle even the non-normal situations that might arise in the cockpit.

Our duty began with the preflight briefing, talking about the technical state of the simulator, the route to be flown, weather en-route. notices to airmen and other items that would be otherwise talked about if we were to conduct a real flight, such as cockpit and cabin preflight preparations and security measures etc. The flight route was a typical one that commercial airlines usually follow taking us through Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, and finally North Cyprus.

The route was entered in the state of the art Garmin GPS hardware allowing us to make use of the Autopilot NAV function of our simulator for the most part of the flight. But I dare you to say, autopilot flying does not necessarily imply that pilots have nothing to do when the autopilot is engaged. The pilots are the masterminds behind what autopilots do and are the guys who intervene should the autopilot mess things up.

Chris and Margaret stepped into the cockpit full of confidence determined to break the embargo. Chris sat on the left, acting as the pilot flying and the commander of the flight, and Margaret sat on the right hand seat acting as the so-called pilot non-flying, carrying out the radiotelephony communication duties, also making sure Chris was up to scratch in his control and navigation of the aircraft. Both were in control of their assigned tasks like professionals. The preflight items and cockpit set-up shortly followed making sure all was set ready for an evening take-off into the rainy skies blanketing the lights of London. This was an opportunity to discuss the usual series of actions pilots take in order to avoid unfavourable weather conditions that face them and the sophisticated weather radar systems that aircraft normally have to aid pilots during avoidance.

The take-off roll was uneventful, or at least Chris made it look uneventful to the rest of the crew as he was the only one in control of the aircraft and the rest of us were merely monitoring his actions and the instruments. As with any flight, any malfunction, and mishap that pops out of the blue needs to be taken care of in a professional and relaxed manner, as was the case when Chris realised his rudder pedals were stiffer than what he experienced last time. He made sure this did not deter him from keeping the aircraft in the confines of the tarmac and soon afterwards he smoothly rotated the multi engine piston aircraft airborne bound for sunshine. Once up and flying safely away from the flat terrain below, he revealed the difficulty he had encountered with the rudder pedals and deservedly he received a quiet round of applause in my heart. Unbeknown to him, I forgot to change the severe turbulence setting on the instructor panel which I had set for a previous session. Not so funny I know, but a great performance by Chris to recover from the combined challenge he faced from the rudder pedals and the adverse weather.

All calm and in charge, Chris then engaged the autopilot and commanded it to follow the route earlier entered in the GPS. With approximately 1000 feet per minute rate of climb, instruments settled into stable figures whilst we continued on the Detling 1S Standard Instrument Departure (SID) route. SIDs allow aircraft to follow certain airways away from the airport taking into consideration factors such as terrain and populated areas (for noise abatement matters). Once the SID is complete, the transition to upper airways is accomplished in consultation with upper airspace control centres. In our case, Essex Radar and London Control centres provided us with the necessary separation from other aircraft taking us across the English Channel which separates southern England from northern France, but more importantly separating the southern part of the North Sea from the Atlantic Ocean.

We climbed and maintained our planned cruise altitude of 10,000 feet by which point we were already leaving the rainy clouds behind us soaring into a crystal clear night sky ahead of us over Brussels. Chris was thoughtful enough to take this opportunity to brief his passengers about the flight so far and the beautiful city lights below. His perfect command of English was surely not a surprise, but his flow of speech was second to none which would only be found on a British Airways flight, surely promising to impress any nervous passenger on a real flight.

As the flight progressed into the German airspace, Margaret had to acknowledge some weather reports passed on to her from the Maastricht Control Centre. We were to encounter some more rain clouds ahead and the associated turbulence to go with it. In full faith of our aircraft, we made sure the airspeed fluctuations did not push us below or beyond the normal operating range that is depicted as a green arc on the airspeed indicator.

This was to be the last rocky part of our entire flight and the remainder of the journey proved to be a calm and relaxed ride. In fact, too relaxed that it was so tempting to fall asleep. So we started discussing how pilots, in reality, get power naps with the attention of a cabin crew member keeping an eye on the other pilot who would be awake and in control of the aircraft while his peer is asleep.

Although we had already exhausted considerable flight time so far behind us, Chris and Margaret were still fully alert and surely not exhausted. Margaret pinpointed a discrepancy between the speed indicated on the Airspeed Indicator and the GPS. I briefly explained to them that the speed depicted on the Garmin was showing the Ground Speed, that is the speed relative to the ground measured using satellite technology, whereas the speed shown on the Air Speed Indicator was depicting that which is measured with the onboard equipment showing us our speed through the air, calibrated for imperfections such as the instrument error.

Approaching the Greek airspace, I recall a flight of mine with Cyprus Turkish Airlines from London to İzmir, Turkey. Based on regulatory requirements, each flight must have an alternate airport declared on the Air Traffic Control (ATC) flight plan in order to show the authorities that fuel considerations are in place should the aircraft not make it to its destination for one reason or another. On that particular day, our chosen alternate airport for Izmir happened to be Ercan Airport. Just as we were about to leave the Bulgarian airspace about to enter the Greek airspace, we were informed by the Bulgarian ATC unit that the Greek authorities won’t allow us to fly over the Greek airspace unless we changed our alternate airport from Ercan to some other airport. It was tragicomic and childish to experience an event of this nature since our flight plan was fully approved by the EuroControl, headquarters in Brussels. Fairly strange to know that politics can go as far as attempting to manipulate the approved navigational route of a passenger jetliner full of civilians. There were no means of the Greek authorities stopping us flying through the Greek airspace in practical terms, but an action which aimed at causing nuisance and distress.

We already had the first glimpse of daylight flying past the Aegean into the southern coast of Turkey. By this point, Margaret reminded Chris about descent and approach planning. Chris then transferred controls to Margaret in order to do his set-ups and to brief the rest of the crew for the approach.

Fast approaching North Cyprus over the Mediterranean

Our last waypoint over Turkey was Antalya, from which we directly set course towards the western tip of North Cyprus, Sadrazamköy. Approaching Cyprus Margaret was quick to spot Sadrazamköy whilst Chris was keeping himself busy making sure he was navigating and descending his aircraft according to the instructions given by Ercan Control.

The final adjustment by the ATC helped us fly directly over Ercan airport for a reversal manoeuvre to follow taking us on an intercept course for a westerly runway approach. Having flown over Europe in darkness thanks to our navigational tools and the autopilot, Chris was now enjoying a visual approach, flying manually over the Mesarya plain in the last few nautical miles before the runway threshold.

The landing was uneventful in calm conditions with our parking position already passed on to us by the controller.  With full satisfaction of what we have just achieved, Chris and Margaret completed the after landing items and checklists, leaving behind only the post flight briefing to do, and most importantly,  a disappointment to know that in this day and age where mankind is getting ready to send human legacy to Mars, we still cannot fly home to North Cyprus directly from elsewhere!

Tired but happy, we parked on the apron at Ercan Airport. would like to thank Captain Koray Yilmaz and the University of Kyrenia for this wonderful experience.

To read Part 1 of this aviation and flight journey from London Stansted to Ercan Airport article  click here

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