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A Day in the Life: Airbus 319/320/321 Pilot

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

The Morning Ritual

The alarm clock on my iPhone goes off to Gymnopédie No. 1 by Erik Satie. It’s 4:00 a.m., but it is an easy and soft tune to wake up to. I call it the conveyor belt method; everything was laid out the night before in sequence. I begin with a quick shower and cleanup, then start moving down the line. After 13 years in the industry, I’ve got it down to a science. I walk out the door and meet the crew in the lobby ten minutes prior to our scheduled shuttle time to the airport.

I’m coming off of a nice 30-hour overnight in Springfield, Massachusetts. It’s a long 30-minute shuttle ride to the airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Once we arrive, we make our way through security. I love New England airports because they have Dunkin Donuts, so I’ve already built that into my morning plan. We have three scheduled legs of flying today, so I know I’m going to need to stay alert and focused. Everything has already been prepped the night before in regard to my company iPad for flight planning. We are scheduled to fly from Bradley Windsor Locks, CT, (BDL) to Detroit, MI, (DTW) on the first leg.

All my flight planning tools including weather outlook information, turbulence planner application, and navigation charts are ready to go. After getting my coffee, heading to the jet, and stowing my bags, I start the preflight walkaround. It’s dark outside, so I have my flashlight. The plane came in when it was dark and it’s the first flight of the day, so I’m taking things a little more slowly and being more thorough. After the walkaround is done, I’m back in the jet, and it’s my leg to fly.

This morning we are flying an Airbus 319, the smallest of the 320 family we have at Delta. I run through my First Officer preflight flow, and I’m now in the Flight Management System and Multi-Function Control and Display Unit (FMS & MCDU), commonly called the box, which is really the heart and brains of the Airbus. I go through everything in the box and then review it again to make sure I didn’t miss anything. The Captain and I swap roles and go over what the other pilot has done, just to make sure we didn’t omit any items. I brief up the plan: no maintenance issues with the aircraft, an overview of how we are going to get from our parking spot in BDL to our parking spot in DTW including push, taxi, takeoff, departure, enroute, arrival, approach, and taxi route after landing. We talk about expected and unexpected threats. It’s early – very early – there’s also some terrain west of BDL, but nothing is wrong with the airplane, no adverse weather exists along the route, and no other threats are expected.

We’re off! It’s a quick taxi from gate A10 to Runway 33. We need some time on the first flight of the day to let the engines warm up, so we take it nice and slow. About eight minutes after push, we are off the ground heading toward Detroit. It’s smooth as glass climbing out and getting up to altitude. The Airbus makes things extremely easy for us; minimum inputs are required by the pilot since the MCDU is taking care of everything. It’s just a simple push or pull on the Flight Control Unit (FCU). We are blocked (the total time from wheels up to wheels down) for one hour and thirty-five minutes to Detroit. The flight, like most, is uneventful. I glance out the window and can tell the sun is coming up behind us as the water below off the Finger Lakes in west-central New York state is coming out of the darkness.

About 45 minutes from Detroit, we start briefing the arrival, descent, and taxi into Detroit with no expected threats on any of the phases of the arrival. Coming in from the east, Detroit is landing to the south, so we are planning on landing on runway 21L. We are scheduled to park on the north end of the terminal in Detroit, so the plan is to aim for a taxiway that would get us there more quickly. With that being said, safety is our number one priority and passenger comfort is second, so we’ll never sacrifice either of those for cutting off time on the flight. The autopilot is disengaged immediately after we become fully configured around 2,000 feet above ground level (AGL). There is not a lot of wind present today, so very minimal input is required on the sidestick. I start hearing the automated radar altimeter callouts, “fifty, forty, thirty,” and begin bringing the pitch up on the airplane while simultaneously reducing thrust. Not the best, but not the worst landing; I know I’ll get another one coming back from Orlando to make up for it on our third leg of the day. After a ten-minute taxi to the gate – we’ve arrived.

We have an hour on the ground, which includes a plane swap into an Airbus 321, followed by an out-and-back to Orlando. It’s that time of the year… the weather looks great now, but thunderstorms are in our future in central Florida. Wash, rinse, repeat, and we are airborne. It’s the Captain’s leg, so I’m running the radios. Our Airbus 321 is equipped with Controller–Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC), and as we reach altitude, I get a text message on the screen to change radio frequencies. I acknowledge by hitting a confirmation button, and it’s on to the next sector of Indianapolis Center Air Traffic Control. The US is currently in trial with CPDLC, so the text messages stop as we enter Atlanta’s airspace.

Thankfully, the weather in northern Florida hasn’t turned over yet, so it’s an uneventful descent into Orlando. We land and have a fairly long taxi over to the gate. It’s another short sit on the ground and then back to Detroit. We end up having to dodge a few thunderstorm cells as we make our way out of Florida. The rest of the flight operates smoothly and on time. We return to Detroit following our expected route, and I complete the trip with a better landing than the morning. The day and trip are over, and now it’s time to wait for my commuting flight home to Minneapolis, MN.

Advice for Others

Understand that this career takes a ton of persistence, perseverance, time, money, networking, etc. But if you are passionate about it and give it your best, you can do it. It may take you less time or more time, but you always need to ask yourself, “What do I need to do to standout?” Getting hired by a major airline isn’t just about being a great pilot, but also entails being a great human outside of the flight deck. Volunteer your time, mentor younger pilots, help in your community, and most importantly put yourself into leadership positions so that you succeed later in life. It’s great to build a foundation of flying, but make sure you surround yourself with great people who will help you achieve your goals and dreams.

Personal Biography

My name is Derek Rogy. I am a First Officer at Delta Air Lines. My current equipment is the Airbus 319/320/321 family, and I live in Minneapolis, MN; however, I am based in Detroit. I previously flew the Boeing 757 and 767 when I was first hired at Delta in February of 2018 while based in New York City. I started flying in high school by taking flying lessons. This passion quickly turned into a career pursuit. After three years of flight training at Kansas State University’s satellite campus in Salina, KS, I was selected for an internship in 2006, with now defunct Northwest Airlines Inc. (NWA) to support the Boeing 747-400 fleet.

Following college graduation and my work at NWA Inc., I became a First Officer at Mesaba Airlines in 2008 and operated the Bombardier CRJ-900. After Mesaba merged with Pinnacle Airlines, I transitioned to flying the CRJ-200. In the fall of 2013, I made the decision to try something new and got hired to fly for Compass Airlines on the Embraer 175. After a year and a half at Compass, I upgraded to Captain. Shortly thereafter, I was privileged enough to become an Assistant Chief Pilot at Compass. I stayed in the Chief Pilot office at Compass for a year and a half before exiting to become a Line Check Airman and Project Pilot. I interviewed with Delta in December of 2017 and started shortly thereafter in February of 2018.

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