In mid-October 2016, SAS was ready to take delivery of the first of its 30 new A320neo planes as part of the upgrade of the short- and medium-haul fleet. But before that could happen, two pilots – SAS Fleet Chief Pilot Ole Jørgen Jørgensen and Project Tech Pilot Ørjan Goteman – needed to make sure everything was in order.
For 90 minutes, Jørgensen made the first SAS A320neo acceptance flight in the skies over Hamburg. During the flight he made sure that the plane was behaving according to specifications, testing the radios, data communications, displays, engines and landing systems. Once he confirmed that, the papers were signed, the plane was bought, and it was all systems go.
“Airbus does the initial test flight when the plane comes off the production line,” Jørgensen says. “When we arrive to take delivery, we use something called a CAM – the Customer Acceptance Manual.”
According to Goteman who did the acceptance flight for the second A320neo delivery, these flights are slightly less comprehensive than a test flight, but they are no less important.
“It’s a fixed manual we check against,” says
Goteman. “In addition, we cherry-pick aspects of the production test flight protocol that might have been a bit wonky.
“Routinely, we check the flight control authority by flying up to 30 degrees pitch up, and 67 degrees bank, followed by 15 degrees pitch down. This is preferably done in a smooth and continuous maneuver. The air conditioning packs are then switched off at 9,450m to check the cabin depressurization rate. After a descent to below 4,200m, we check the low-speed characteristics of the aircraft, flying at absolutely minimum speed [maximum alpha] with the aircraft in landing configuration. Lazy eights are also performed: climbing up and then turning back with max back up. It’s a great feeling if you do it quite softly,” says Goteman.
Once the pilots verify everything is in order, they sign the papers and then fly the empty plane back to SAS’ home base where small modifications are made to give the aircraft its SAS flair.
Jørgensen says SAS has been working on purchasing the A320neo for a long time, so the entire SAS Airbus office has been geared up and ready for the new planes to arrive.
“For our travelers, comfort has been taken to a new level, and for the environment, the new airplane burns 15% less fuel than those we fly now,” says Jørgensen. “But for us, the pilots, the A320neo is the greatest working environment possible. There’s no comparison when it comes to the cockpit and flying experience, and all of the pilots are eager to get into this plane.”
Pilots typically sit in their “office”, the cockpit, around eight to nine hours a day, and often up to 13. But while other planes have small, narrow and not very comfortable cockpits, those on the A320neo are wider and roomier, have a tray that can be pulled up for eating, and most importantly, offer a quieter environment. In short, pilots say the A320neo is the best, most modern type they could hope for.
“The lower noise level is really noticeable,” says Goteman. “We don’t need to wear headsets all the time, just during takeoff, landing and taxiing. Things like that really count.”
Travelers have also commented on the reduced noise.
“I flew the first A320neo commercial flight from Stockholm to Copenhagen,” Jørgensen says. “Many people came up to me after we landed to tell me that the flight was noticeably quieter. This is a great investment for SAS as we move into the future.”
Another thing that will continue to keep SAS moving forward is the capability of the A320neo to make approaches on a curved path.
“Most aircraft do straight approaches,” says Goteman. “But the A320neo can fly on a curved path, which avoids noise and obstacles. We don’t need a ground transmitter – we use GPS just like you do in your car, except on a much higher scale. The entire short-haul fleet will be capable of making curved approaches in the future.”
Being a test pilot means you don’t just examine new planes, though. Pilots also inspect aircraft that have undergone heavy maintenance, such as engine replacements.
“These types of flights are even more fun,” says Goteman. “And this is when we go all in. We test absolutely everything.”
SAS has just eight or ten test pilots and it requires a particular set of skills to become one. Goteman and Jørgensen say the most important thing is the right attitude: you have to be capable of going into great detail but also know when it’s not important – and you need the ability to cope in situations without full support, which means you do the best you can while getting on with the main objective.
“Of course, you need to be a good pilot,” says Goteman. “But you also have to have an overview of both technical and operational aspects, as well as be aware of the priorities of the exercises. Thinking on your feet – making decisions in the moment and knowing how to respond – that’s really key, because we can’t always predict what will happen.”
SAS will take delivery of 30 A320neos over the next few years and Goteman and Jørgensen will be on hand to check over everything before flying the planes to their home base. The two men love what they do and seem to perfectly complement one another.
“I’m more the thorough theoretical guy and Ole is more the test pilot guy,” says Goteman. “So together we make a great team.”