A Day in the Life of an Airline Pilot – Flying to Mexico City

ATP has graduates of our flight training programs flying for virtually every airline in this country, and once in a while they write to share what their flying jobs are all about. Chris Carey is an exceptionally talented pilot who writes from time to time to tell us what it is like to live the dream of being an airline pilot here in the United States. The following is the first part of a three part story about a day in Chris’s life flying for the airlines:

Of all the places to which I travel, one of my favorite and most challenging destinations is Mexico City. Mexico City sits at the top of the world, 7,300 feet to be exact, and is nestled in the Valley of Mexico between mountains that reach up to 18,400 feet. It is an ancient city founded under the name Tenochtitlan by the Aztecs in the year 1325. With the Spanish came change and in the year 1585 the city officially became Le Cuidad de Mexico, Mexico City. The city boasts antique Spanish architecture, cultural attractions in abundance and some of the best food one could ever hope to sample.

Mexico City is served by Benito Juarez International Airport, which is commonly called Mexico City International. The airport is the second busiest in Latin America after Sao Paulo, Brazil. The airport, like the city itself, is bound by mountains on all sides. The combination of mountains and high traffic volume results in one of the most challenging airports in the world.

Planning for an approach into Mexico City begins roughly two hours before our arrival. At this time, the captain and I retrieve all of the charts necessary for our arrival at the airport. These charts include, but are not limited to, the Latin America 3-4 High/Low altitude chart, The Mexico City area chart (10-1), the Radar Minimum Altitudes chart (10-1R), the Datul Two Alpha Arrival chart (10-2), the ILS DME Runway 5 approach chart (11-2) and the airport diagram (10-9). There are additional, company specific charts, but these initial charts are the minimum needed to operate into the airport. At two hours out we are still over the Gulf of Mexico and are just getting handed off from the controllers in Houston to Monterrey Center. Pilots always pay close attention to air traffic control and especially so when speaking with foreign controllers. The controllers in Mexico are great, but there is always a bit of a language barrier that must be overcome. Our route in Mexican airspace appears on our paperwork as COKER.UA649.PAZ..UJ55.DATUL.. DATU2A. MMMX. This means that our route begins at the COKER intersection on UA649, which is a jet airway. Jet airways are just like highways of the skies: they are predetermined routes that help keep airplanes separated from one another. From COKER we follow UA649 until it ends at the Poza Rica (PAZ) VOR, a ground based navigation facility. From PAZ we follow another airway, UJ55 to the DATUL intersection, where we begin the DATUL Two Alpha arrival procedure, which is what provides us with guidance into the airport environment but not to the airport itself. Once in the airport environment, we will fly the Instrument Landing System (ILS) approach to runway five right (5R).

Chris’s narrative will continue tomorrow on PilotJobs.com.

© 2011 by Christopher P. Carey

The views expressed here belong solely to Chris Carey and are in not endorsed by Continental or United Airlines.