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 final part of a three part story about a day spent flying for the airlines:
We cross the thirty mile ring just as planned and check the chart for our next restriction which is to cross the Lucia VOR at 220 knots and between 13,000 feet and 16,000 feet. As mentioned earlier, it can be difficult to slow down at the same time as descending so we begin to deploy our flaps as a means to slow down the aircraft. At Lucia, we make a right turn to intercept and track the 219 degree course from Lucia to Mateo, another VOR in the area. We also descend another 1,000 feet to 12,000 and begin slowing to 180 knots which requires additional flaps. At this time we receive our approach clearance from the controller which allows us to use guidance from the 11-1 chart to take us all the way into the airport.
At the SMO VOR we turn outbound on the 160 degree course and begin our final speed reductions and configure the airplane for landing, all while descending to a new altitude of 9,700. At 9.2 miles from SMO, we turn left to intercept the localizer into the runway and descend to 8,800 feet, our last crossing restriction. Now at 8,800 feet, slowed back to our landing speed of 160 knots and tracking the localizer inbound to the runway we are all set up for the perfect approach to runway five right (5R) except for one thing. As often happens in Mexico City, the aircraft in front of us has slowed down more than a 737 does for landing and our spacing between the two airplanes is becoming minimal. The solution to this is instruction from the controller to break left and side step to a landing on runway five left (5L). As soon as I hear the controller issue the instructions, the auto pilot and auto throttles come off and I begin a descending turn to the left to line up with approach course to our new runway. There is no electronic guidance of any kind to this runway so it is up to the pilots to use their judgment and experience to fly the appropriate path to ensure a safe landing.
We land on 5L and use almost all of the 13,000 feet available to stop the airplane. The high density altitude of Mexico City means that our approach speeds are much higher than they would be at sea level thus our landing distance is greater. We exit the runway to the right and hold short of the other runway to wait for another landing airplane. After receiving taxi instructions to our gate and checking in with ramp control, we finally park the airplane at our usual gate 56.
Even though the captain and I have both flown this approach countless times, it is always challenging and requires the utmost care. It is airports like Mexico City that truly test a pilot’s ability and bring home the importance of always staying on top of the game. We are spending the night here tonight so there is time to relax and unwind before flying out the next day. No trip to MEX would be complete without a stop at Hector’s Restaurant to enjoy some classic Mexican tacos. If you really want authentic Mexican food, there is only one place to get it.
Chris Carey is a 737 First Officer with Continental Airlines, and former ATP graduate and CFI. Chris is a volunteer on the Pilot Career Coach forums at BeAnAirlinePilot.com, and frequent contributor to 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.