Cockpit Chronicles: A captain’s line check

Once every two years a captain is required to be observed by a check airman. And captains over sixty must be checked every six months.

I touched on the line check in the last Cockpit Chronicles, and I’ve had yet another trip with a check airman performing a line check, making it two in the last eight days. Both of the captains I was flying with were over sixty. As a result of the change in retirement age from sixty to sixty-five in 2007, a line check has been mandated every six months for those sixty and older.

I’ve spotted some of the items that check airman are looking for during these checks. Consider this a guide on how to make a check airman happy. I know my demographic here at Gadling will be thrilled to come across this information.

It’s important not to fly any differently when you’re not being checked. You won’t be able to fool these pilots by ‘stepping up your game’ only when they’re around. There are so many rules, procedures and techniques you’ll need to adhere to, that it’ll be obvious to the instructor that you haven’t been paying attention to your training if you try to ‘step up your game’ only when the management pilot is around.

The ‘Check Airman’

At my company, check airmen are captains that are chosen, usually by the base chief pilot, to fill the instructor positions. Some are exclusively ‘line’ check airman, who only perform line checks and the ‘initial operating experience’ for new pilots to the aircraft. Others are qualified to fly the line and also perform simulator checks.

What they want to see.

The following are some examples of what a pilot will be tested on during a six month or two-year line check.Licenses and medicals

The first thing they’re likely interested in seeing are a pilot’s license and medicals. They’re checking to see the medical hasn’t expired and that the license includes an ‘English Language’ endorsement. It may sound silly, but the international organization overseeing many of the rules governing air carriers worldwide, ICAO, requires all licenses to include this endorsement. If it’s not there, you can’t fly, no matter how eloquent a pilot is while trying to talk their way out of the problem.


A check airman will be watching to see that a captain conducts a thorough briefing with the flight attendants regarding any security changes, the expected ride conditions and to re-iterate how an evacuation may be handled.


In order for 10,000 pilots to fly well together, there has to be a set of procedures and call outs that everyone is familiar with, obviously. So check airmen pay particular attention to these procedures and will often comment if something is done differently. For example, if a pilot were to check the flight controls on the ramp instead of the taxiway, something may be said. Interestingly, in that example, other aircraft in our fleet allow for the flight controls to be checked on the ramp after the pushback crew has departed, so not everything is consistent from one fleet to the next.


While it might seem to be nit-picking, check airmen will say something if the response to a checklist item is read back as “closed” when it should be “cutoff” instead. This can especially be an issue for pilots coming from a different brand of airplane that uses different terminology. Old habits are hard to break.


Check airmen are tasked with encouraging fuel saving techniques and they might make mention of this during a line check. Recently a comment was made to me when I opted to use the Econ mode of our FMS to set the climb speed since it was 298 knots, which was very close to the company’s procedure of using 300 knots at that weight. The check airman probably just wanted to be sure that I knew the speed usually set for a given weight. Interestingly, they rarely mention when a pilot brings the flaps out early when flying level at the minimum clean (no flaps) airspeed for twenty miles before starting the approach; a technique that could also save some serious dinosaurs.


Recently we’ve had some changes in the regulations regarding delays on international flights. You’re going to hear a lot more updates should a delay occur, and there are specific rules regarding just how often captains must update passengers, even if we don’t know the cause for the delay or how much longer we may have to wait. Since the penalties from the Department of Transportation, DOT, for non-compliance are steep, this will be an example of a new policy that will be checked as well.

Systems knowledge

Even though we go through an oral exam during our simulator check rides every nine months, check airmen will be looking for signs of weak areas in the knowledge of the systems of the airplane. These systems can include the hydraulics, electrical, flight controls, FMS computers, autopilot, fuel system, pneumatics and flight instruments among other things. But there’s no oral quizzing during line checks fortunately. The instructors are quick to say they’re just there to observe.

So while pilots rarely have management looking over their shoulders, they are checked often by check airmen.

These check rides usually result in something being learned and are a good way to ensure that every pilot is working in the most standardized way while flying the line. The vast majority of check airmen are helpful and friendly, although I can’t say that most pilots are truly happy to have them aboard. And knowing that fact probably makes the check airmen job all that more difficult.

As a first officer, I’m not eligible to work as a check airman and I’ve vowed to stay away from the job for the rest of my career. At our company, there really isn’t a significant pay premium to work as an instructor, and you give up most landings and opportunities to actually fly the airplane while you’re performing a line check or IOE training. And your schedule is often dictated by whatever the pilot you’re checking can hold. While I appreciate those who choose to step into these roles, I know my place in life is as a line pilot. There’s nothing better. Except perhaps as a line captain, but that will have to wait for a future Cockpit Chronicles.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Cockpit Chronicles: A gallon saved…

On a late night Atlantic crossing I turned to the captain, Dave, and announced, “1,900 pounds up on the fuel.”

We both looked at our running fuel log. “It must be the winds,” he responded.

Dave and I regularly fly together and we make it a point to challenge each other not on who makes the best landings or who can fly the nicest approach, but which pilot burned the least amount of fuel on their leg.

Since we swap legs, each pilot gets a chance to throw down the gauntlet.

Clearly, this leg of Dave’s to London from Boston was going to be tough to beat. Typically we’ll try to fly at the optimum altitude and speed, taking into consideration our arrival time and the winds.

Tonight we were almost 20 minutes late, so Dave decided to push it up and request a speed of mach .81 for the North Atlantic crossing. And while we benefited from a couple of slight shortcuts from ATC, it was nothing that would’ve resulted in a 2,000 pound savings of fuel.

As we flew over Ireland, I took a second to plot the location of Ruthann’s home, the Cockpit Chronicles chief editor and proofreader who lives in Ireland.

Yep, we’d be flying within 5 miles of her town. Her house was just north of Galway, and today was an amazingly clear day over Ireland, so I snapped a few pictures of the area where she lives.

Since she monitors the air-to-air frequency, I let her know we were abeam her home.

She was asleep, since she’s rarely awake before noon on a weekend, but she did hear the call. She managed to roll out of bed, look out the window and snap a shot of us flying by before falling back asleep, I’m sure.

It’s interesting to see the contrast between the two views, one from above and the other on the ground at exactly same moment.

As we approached London, I adjusted the shade on my window to stay out of the rising sun directly ahead of us. It was 4 a.m. back home, but we were approaching England at 9 in the morning and I felt amazingly awake. Clearly I prefer flying through the night to any departure before 8. As far as I was concerned, this was just another daytime flight.
Dave grumbled a bit about our 10 p.m. departure, but a few cups of coffee and he was his usual loquacious self.

Our flight plan had us consuming 65,500 pounds of fuel for the flight. Dave and I both knew the real fuel savings that could be had with just the right descent planning. Typically a flight might run very close to the planned fuel burn en route, but the descent, if done at the proper time and at the right speed-ATC permitting-was the point where the fuel burn would be hundreds of pounds less than the average amount used for our flight plan.

Sure enough, after a steady, constant idle descent that’s required of flights landing in London, Dave touched down with 2,500 pounds more fuel than planned and 7 minutes earlier than the flight plan had figured.

After we cleared the runway and as we taxied toward the terminal, I called our company. They told me the gate, or ‘stand’ as they call it, was occupied by Air Canada and it would be at least 25 minutes before we could park.

At almost the same moment, Heathrow ground control called to tell us that our gate was occupied and that we could hold our position where we were.

Captain Dave, knowing his 2,000+ pounds of fuel would vanish with this kind of delay, turned to me and said, “Ask them if we could shut down here.”

“Heathrow ground, it appears we’re in for at least a 25 minute delay, any chance we could shut down here?” I complied.

Typically, most pilots would shut one engine down but they’re reluctant to shut both down during an extended delay for fear that ATC might need them to move out of the way.

But Dave has demonstrated to me that it’s possible to be up and running in less than a minute if one is willing to forgo starting the second engine when ground control asks us to move; a time that’s reasonable enough.

Domestically, we’re aware of the typical holding positions that ATC will assign, and permission to shut both engines down isn’t always needed. But in London, I could tell Dave wanted to be sure we could loiter at this spot.

“Continue forward to the next taxiway and hold short there. You can shut both down when you get there,” Heathrow ground responded.

We proceeded ahead, started the APU (auxiliary power unit) and shut both engines down. I monitored the ATC frequency as well as our company frequency and started the timer.

We were positioned perfectly to watch the incoming airplanes land on runway 9 left at Heathrow. With the engines shut down and the brakes set, this would be a perfect opportunity to snap a few pictures of the landing aircraft out the cockpit window.

And since it was a balmy 65 degrees, why not open the window? The glass on the side window of the 767 isn’t that great, and an open window would hopefully yield some nice shots.

“This is nice,” Dave said, noting the quiet cockpit and cool air coming inside. We took in the view for exactly 25 minutes before Heathrow ground told us our gate was opening up and we could start up to plan on taxiing in the next few minutes.

As we parked the brakes, I looked up at the fuel. 2,200 pounds–more than a ton of fuel saved.

When I stop to think how that 2,200 pounds of fuel or 328 gallons will power my car 14,760 miles–enough to cross the United States nearly 5 times, it becomes clear that whatever I do at home and while driving to save energy, nothing can compare to the positive impact I can have as a pilot if I just flew less like a hog.

Of course this saves money for our company and eliminates a good chunk of pollution, but I think Dave and I both enjoy the challenge. It’s a satisfaction right up there with a nice approach and landing.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? Check out Plane Answers.