Updated: Mar 21
Ultra Long-Range Operations are defined as flights longer than 16 hours in duration. ULR operations require specific guidelines owing to the nature of the operation.
These flights carry additional crew members for the demands of the long duty period. Pilots are limited to active flight deck duty of 8 hours, while sitting at the flight controls. Flights of over 12 hours require a 4th pilot to alleviate that limitation. Flights over 16 hours require additional rest before embarking on a ULR flight, this will be planned on the roster long before the flight takes place. Two Captains and two First Officers are rostered for a ULR New York operation. The crew work in 2 shifts, primary crew and secondary crew. They are allocated their crew position, weeks before the commencement of the flight. Each pilot will operate with their respective other crew member for the duration of the pairing, both outbound and return. The primary crew will complete the preparation, flight planning, briefing, performance calculation and take off.
The secondary crew will operate in a support role. Should there be a need for assistance while on the ground, the secondary crew will lend a hand, make the radio call, check the safety equipment and prepare the rest area. This will give the primary crew opportunity to focus on the job at hand and depart on time.The primary crew will also be at the controls for the descent and landing at destination. In order to be ready for the approach, the crew would be in the cockpit for at least 1 hour before the landing. This will give them ample opportunity wake fully from the sleep lag, to survey the weather conditions at the airport, to plan flight navigation system according to the runway in use and be ready for any change in routine operation, should that arise.Once established in the en-route climb, the Captain will divide the rest periods into 4 parts. Each crew will have two rest periods, a short one and a long one, which the crew will alternate during the flight. The primary crew will have the favourable long rest period during the time when the body has the highest sleep urge. This will also ensure that sufficient time is allocated in preparation, before the approach commences. The rationale behind short and long rest periods is physiological for two reasons. Firstly, there is a better time for rest according to the circadian rhythm. Secondly there is a limitation on how long good rest can continue before being disrupted by a toilet break or discomfort in the bunk. The longer rest is usually about 4hrs. The remaining rest period will be divided in two, with the primary crew taking the preferred rest opportunity. The secondary crew will commence their rest as the aircraft climbs away from departure airport. During the night, the secondary crew will operate the flight as they see fit. They have full autonomy in their decision making. The strategic plan is to arrive safely with sufficient fuel at destination. The tactical plan may be to avoid large thunderstorms and tropical cyclones. It may involve a technical abnormality or an unwell passenger. Executing the correct climb profile, to save as much fuel as possible will also be done by the secondary crew. Their role while the primary crew rests, is to make all the decisions to bring the aircraft safely to destination.
Arriving at destination with primary crew rested and ready for the approach is the goal of this high performance team. An important note is that all pilots are fully trained operational pilots and can operate as primary crew. These roles are assumed on the day and the crew are well aware of this weeks before the flight takes place. If I am in a supporting role, I know what is expected of me on the day. I will plan my afternoon rest accordingly, before arriving at work. I know my role as a Senior First Officer. My job is to help the primary crew make the best decisions, to land safely and effectively at the end of a long flight. This is also true in cycling. Each rider is a highly paid professional working in a team. The support role is there to bring the leader close to the finish line with fresh legs and allow him to take the victory for the team. Just as in drafting, having completed the harder shift during the rest period, secondary crew will step aside and allow the primary crew to arrive at the finish line with fresh legs in order to claim the victory. Unlike cycling, but familiar in nature, this team will celebrate the victory together. There is no individual winner on ULR operations, the team is the victor.