A. You are going to listen to an interview with two pilots. Listen to the first part of the interview and answer questions.

1   What weather conditions are the most dangerous when flying a plane?

2   Which is more dangerous, taking off or landing?

3   Is it really worth passengers wearing seat belts?

4   Is it worth listening to the safety instructions?

5   Are some airports more dangerous than others?

6   How important is it for pilots to speak English well?


1   Sudden changes of wind direction, especially during thunderstorms and typhoons. But more turbulence isn’t dangerous as pilots are prepared.

2   Both are dangerous, but take-off is a bit more dangerous than landing, especially if there is a problem just before the plane goes into the air.

3   Yes, because if the plane moves suddenly, e.g. in turbulence or when the plane brakes on the ground, you can be thrown out of your seat.

4   Yes, because if there’s a fire, it might be dark and knowing where the nearest exit is could save you.

5   Yes, especially ones with mountains or in countries with older more basic equipment. Only very experienced pilots are allowed to land at these airports.

6   Very important as it’s the official language of the air. Most pilots and controllers speak good English, but not all.


I = interviews, S = Steven, R = Richard

I    With me in the studio today I have two pilots, Richard and Steven, who are going to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about flying and air travel. Hello to both of you.

S & R   Hello.

I    Right, the first question is what weather conditions are the most dangerous when flying a plane?

S   Probably the most dangerous weather conditions are when the wind changes direction very suddenly. This tends to happen during thunderstorms and typhoons, and it’s especially dangerous during take-off and landing. But it’s quite unusual – I’ve been flying for 37 years now and I’ve only experienced this three or four times.

I    Is all turbulence dangerous?

S   No, in fact it’s not normally dangerous. Pilots know when to expect turbulence and we try to avoid it by changing routes or flight levels.

I    Which is more dangerous, take-off or landing?

R   Both take-off and landing can be dangerous. They’re the most critical moments of a flight. Pilots talk about the ‘critical eight minutes’ – the three minutes after take-off and the five minutes before landing. Most accidents happen in this period.

S   I would say take-off is probably slightly more dangerous than landing. There is a critical moment just before take-off when the plane is accelerating, but it hasn’t yet reached the speed to be able to fly. If the pilot has a problem with the plane at this point, he has very little time – maybe only a second – to abort the take-off.

I    Passengers often think that putting on seat belts in a plane is really a waste of time. Is that true?

S   Not at all. When the plane is moving on the ground and the pilot suddenly puts the brakes on, passengers can be thrown out of their seats, just like in a car. But more importantly, during the flight if there is sudden and severe turbulence, you could be thrown all over the cabin if you aren’t wearing your seat belt. That’s why airlines usually recommend you wear your belt even when the seat belt light is off.

I    Should we really listen to the safety information?

S   It’s definitely worth listening to the information about emergency exits. If there’s a fire on a plane, it may be dark and the plane will be full of smoke and fumes. So listening to where the exits are, and working out which one is the nearest exit to you, might save your life. Most aircrew can even tell you where the emergency exits are in the hotels where they stay.

I    What about life jackets?

R   Fortunately, planes very rarely have to land in the sea, but to be honest the chances of surviving if your plane did crash into the sea are not high.

I    Are some airports more dangerous than others?

S   Yes, some are – particularly airports with high mountains around them and airports in countries with older or more basic navigation equipment.

R   For some difficult airports like, let’s say Kathmandu, they only allow very experienced pilots to land there. And for some of these airports pilots have to practise on a simulator first before they are given permission to land a plane there.

I    How important is it for pilots and controllers to have good clear English?

S   It’s the official language of the air, so obviously it’s vital for pilots and controllers to have good English. To be honest, it doesn’t always happen.

R   And apart from people’s English not being good, some countries don’t respect the convention and don’t force their pilots to speak in English. But most of them do, luckily.

B. Now listen to the second part. What three questions do they answer?


1   Have you ever had a problem with a famous person as a passenger?

2   What’s your most frightening experience as a pilot?

3   Have you ever been taken ill during a flight?


I    Have you ever had a problem with a famous person as a passenger?

R   I’ve carried a lot of famous people and they are usually very well behaved. But I remember once I had the actor Steven Seagal as a passenger – and the cabin crew told me that he had just got on board and he was carrying an enormous samurai sword. Weapons aren’t allowed on board, of course, so I had to go and speak to him. He looked very imposing standing in the cabin. He was nearly 2 metres tall, dressed completely in black, carrying a sword and he is – as you probably know – a martial arts expert. But in fact, he was very happy to give us the sword, which was gold and which had been give to him as a present in Bali.

I    What’s your most frightening experience as a pilot?

S   Crossing the road outside the airport terminal! That’s certainly the most dangerous thing I do. Probably in connection with flying, my most frightening experience would have to be a near miss I had when I was flying a Boeing 747 at night. A small aeroplane passed in the opposite direction just 15 metres below my plane… Just after this happened, a flight attendant brought us some hot snacks and I distinctly remember how good they tasted!

I    Have you ever been taken ill during a flight?

R   Once I was flying from Hong Kong to London, that’s a 13-hour flight, and I got food poisoning after six hours. I felt terrible – incapable of doing anything at all for the rest of the flight. Luckily though, the rest of the crew were fine, because on all flights the crew are given different meals, just in case. So as my co-pilots had eaten a different meal and felt fine, the flight was able to continue safely.

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