A Pilots Perspective - Flying the Line

Martin Trankell

It’s morning in Arlanda Airport. The fog has just lifted, traffic is picking up and a day of flying lies ahead. Inside the cockpit of our ATR 72-600 me and my captain have just finished start up and push back from the gate. It’s time to fly to Visby!

SAS turbo prop aircraft 72-600

Taxi to runway 26

Arlanda is a somewhat large airport – but when we call the tower to receive our taxi instruction the clearance is simple: Taxi to runway 26. To find our way there, we use airport maps that we have on our iPad's. On these we find standardized paths indicating the way from each gate to every runway.

We turn on our taxi light – indicating to any other aircraft that we are about to start moving – and check both sides for obstructions. With a little bit of forward movement of the power levers the aircraft starts moving. We are away. Not long after, the cabin crew calls us through the interphone and gives us the “cabin secure for take-off” call. Everybody is briefed, seated and strapped in – ready to go.

The captain is controlling the aircraft’s path through the nose wheel steering tiller and the speed by increasing or decreasing engine power. The ATR only has a tiller wheel on the left side of the cockpit – meaning only the captain can taxi the aircraft. But as a first officer I still assist by checking for other traffic and monitoring that we are indeed taxing the standard way to the active runway. It is also my responsibility to answer any calls from air traffic control over the radio.

Taxi line at Arlanda Airport

As we approach the holding point – the last point before we enter the active runway – the air traffic controller responsible for ground operations at the airport calls up and tell us to switch to the tower frequency. I bid him farewell and tap the new frequency into the radio. I say hello to the tower and in response I get the familiar response: “Scandinavian 085, wind 330 degrees 5 knots, runway 26 cleared for take off.”

“Scandinavian 085, wind 330 degrees 5 knots, runway 26 cleared for take off.”

Take off from Arlanda Airport

It’s my take-off since I will be Pilot Flying for this leg. As soon as the aircraft is lined up on the runway, the captain gives me control of the aircraft with the words “You have control.” I move my left hand to the power levers, my right on the yoke and ready my feet on the rudder pedals. It’s time to go!

I move the power levers forward and fix them at the takeoff power position. The captain retains control of the steering until we reach around 70 knots, so I have plenty of time to check the engine indications for any abnormalities. Everything is looking great and green – and the acceleration is pressing me back into my seat. I get full control of the aircraft just after 70 knots, steering now possible with the rudder alone. I soon hear the “V1” and “Rotate” calls – I lift the nose gently and the aircraft wheels leave the ground. We’re flying!

SAS ATR 72-600 Departure

“Positive climb” I hear as the captain confirms climb on our vertical speed indicator, and my answer is “Gear up”. The captain selects the gear up and then monitors that they indeed come all the way up. There’s a rattle as the nose wheel comes into the gear bay just under the cockpit. Climbing to 1 000 feet takes barely 30 seconds, and I ask for the autopilot to be engaged.

Departure with an aTR 72-600 turbo prop aircraft

Going out of Arlanda means following a series of clearances from air traffic control. The ATR 72 is a turbo prop aircraft and thus comparatively slow on departure. Following the same path as all jet traffic out of Arlanda would mean we would block the departure route – like a driver doing 70 on a 90 single-lane road. Therefore, air traffic control guides us away from the standard departure routes. This is done via “radar vectors” – a series of steer-to headings given by the controller via his radar screen. I control the aircraft through the autopilot, steering and climbing as we are assigned new vectors and altitudes. The captain is responsible for the radio and monitoring the flight – making sure to cross-check all my autopilot selections.

We crisscross in the sky along our sort-of-southbound track towards Visby. We complete the after take-off checklist to make sure we have not forgotten anything important, like retracting the flaps. A few minutes into the flight we give the signal to the cabin crew that they can release their seat belts and begin the in-flight service. There’s a bit of a rush – 70 people are waiting for coffee and we only have 25 minutes left on our trip to Visby!

After take-off checklist for the ATR 72-600

Cruising at 16 000 feet

The aircraft is performing wonderfully with no problems. Soon we reach 10 000 feet and make a regular “ten-thousand check”. The captain goes through the systems looking for trouble – paying extra attention to make sure the aircraft is pressurizing normally. He then releases the passengers by turning off the seat belt-sign.

At this point we’ve left the congested airspace around Arlanda and the workload reduces. I allow myself to relax a little and enjoy the wonderful view outside the window. And boy is it a nice morning! The atmosphere is crystal clear as we pass over the coastline of mainland Sweden. I can already see the whole island of Gotland in front of me. Towards the south I spot the northern tip of Öland and to the north I can see the whole archipelago of Åland. And to make my day even better: The regular ferry is just leaving the port of Nynäshamn towards Visby – a race we will certainly win!

Spotting the regular ferry towards Visby

We reach our cruising altitude of 16 000 feet. The “level segment” of our flight is only about five or six minutes today. The cabin crew is efficient in the back, so we manage to get a cup of coffee. As we sip I prepare for landing in Visby by setting up for the approach. This means tuning the frequency for the instrument landing system for runway 21, setting up the autopilot to be able to conduct the approach and mentally going through the procedure. While I am busy doing my preparations, the captain collects the latest weather report via radio and checks the performance on our iPad.

I conduct the briefing. I ask the captain if he is aware of any threats – a standard question to promote situational awareness of any issues ahead of time. There’s a lot of bird activity today, and the military exercise being conducted over the Baltic could mean we could get a late descent. I agree and then tell him my plan for the approach. I will fly the ILS, we will extend the flaps at 7 nautical miles before the threshold, then take the gear at 5 nautical miles… We check that the correct ILS frequencies are tuned and we discuss the weather. It’s all looking good.

Cloud surfing towards Visby

Preparing for Descent

With only about 10 minutes remaining we start our descent. It’s time for the captain to do the goodbye announcement to the passengers. I take over the radio for a short while. I don’t need to do a lot of talking as the tower is busy with another ATR 72 from BRA. They’re just taking off, heading to Bromma. I spot him on my navigation screen as his transponder activates, our TCAS picking him up and presenting him on my screen. Air traffic control is doing a good job keeping our flight separated in the airspace.

We’re closing in on the approach. We’re descending at 240 knots indicated airspeed. Flap extension can be done at a maximum of 185 knots, so my first action is to start reducing the speed. There’s no automatic speed control in the ATR – so even though the autopilot is controlling the pitch, roll and yaw of the aircraft, I must control the speed. I retard the power levers and watch my airspeed begin to trail off. I’m close to idle power, but the airspeed is only slowly trickling away. 230 knots… 220 knots… The ATR may be a slow goer compared to the jets, but it is a modern and quite efficient aircraft with comparatively low drag profile. This means good fuel efficiency – and a tricky job for me! I must time the speed reduction so that we don’t arrive at my determined flap extension point with too much airspeed.

Approach and landing

We capture the ILS and the autopilot lines the aircraft up with the runway centerline. The cabin crew calls up and tells us the cabin is secure for landing. We decelerate below 185 knots and I ask for flaps. The captain cross-checks the airspeed and selects them down. From here we are “on the glide” – meaning we have captured the glideslope, a part of the instrument landing system now guiding our vertical profile all the way down to the runway. I disconnect the autopilot and continue the approach manually, considering it is a good day to keep the manual flying skills sharp.

After we have selected the gear down and got the flaps to full it’s time to read the checklist. We check all the important settings: Flaps, gear, go around system, anti icing systems. The runway lies straight ahead, the Baltic sea extending all the way to the horizon on my right, and the rural landscape of northern Gotland is on my left. I can still see the ferry coming in from mainland Sweden on the horizon. It still has some way to go.

View from the ATR 72-600

I cross the threshold. The radio altimeter automated voice starts reading out my remaining feet below the wheels. “Fifty, forty, thirty, twenty” – time to start flaring! – “ten”. The aircraft touches down firmly. I’m happy – we landed close to the touch down markings! I retard the power levers into reverse mode, meaning the propellers switch from throwing air backwards to throwing air forwards, generating stopping force. I also gently hit the brakes, careful not to overuse them.

As we approach 70 knots the nose wheel steering becomes effective again, and my captain calls for the controls. We leave the runway via the taxiway, the tower guiding us to our stand. A marshaller is waiting to guide us into the gate. I perform the after-landing checklist – lights off, flaps to zero and engine one off. Soon we are parked, the external power is connected, and we shut off our second engine.

SAS turbo prop aircraft ATR 72-600

Getting Ready for our next flight

We switch the seat belt sign off and I can feel the aircraft start to wobble gently as people stand up in the cabin. That’s it! We’ve delivered a “full house” of morning passengers from Arlanda to Visby. And like déjà vu: It’s 25 minutes to our next departure, and another 55 passengers are waiting to go back to Arlanda. We might even have time to wave to the ferry – the morning slowly turning into a bright sunny day as we will proceed northbound for our third flight of the day.


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