If there were any cynical concerns that the advanced automation on the Airbus A350 would reduce the pilot’s job to little more than computer monitoring, British Airways director of flying Captain James Basnett does not share them.

“The joy of flying hasn’t been lost,” he told a Royal Aeronautical Society audience on 23 March, as he spoke about his impressions of the twinjet, stating that the aircraft’s sophistication enables efficient performance while retaining the satisfaction of manual flight.


Source: British Airways

Increased automation on the A350 has not removed the joy of flying, Basnett says

While entry-into-service with BA has been “very smooth”, Basnett says the aircraft’s electronic set-up for flight noticeably takes “twice as long” as that for the A320. The airline’s reliance on paper in the cockpit has markedly declined in the last three or four years, he says, noting: “We’re not quite there, but we’re pretty well there.”

The aircraft carries out detailed performance calculations, taking into account effects from individual system status and crosschecking figures with its expectations. Basnett says take-off weight limitations on the A350 are “very rare”, even at hot-and-high airports such as Johannesburg, South Africa.

“It’s probably true to say that, once you’re away from the ground there’s a sense of relief, because the set-up of the aircraft is time-consuming and critical,” he says. “Once you’re in the air, [the A350 is] a delight.”

A350 BA

Source: Ceri Breeze/Shutterstock

BA has 13 A350-1000s, with 250 pilots assigned to the type

The primary flight displays contain “so much information”, he says, with such features as vertical profile, terrain, and balance data, and are a “step up” from the A320. This requires a different approach to the traditional instrument ‘T-scan’ in earlier aircraft, he adds.

Once established in the cruise, the aircraft burns about 6t of fuel per hour.

Basnett says the A350 provides flightcrew with information on contingency scenarios, with a ‘what if’ function – giving detailed data on single-engine descents, for example – enabling the pilots to engage in more interactive preparation. “The A350 has all these tools at your behest,” he notes.


The crew can go into “minute detail” for approach planning, he says, and the A350 is a “really stable aircraft” in both cruise and descent. Load alleviation and flap controls are “constantly doing things which are completely outside the pilot”, he adds – but although a lot of information is “need to know”, the crew can call up systems pages to understand the jet’s behaviour.

Basnett stresses the benefits of the A350’s brake-to-vacate function, which constantly updates the automatic braking requirement according to the aircraft status and runway condition.

This gives the pilots “surety” in the runway exit after touchdown – sufficient to assist air traffic control with approach stream spacing – although he admits that it can be “unnerving” because, while autobraking usually begins immediately, brake-to-vacate optimises the deceleration timing, which means the brakes might not activate for a few seconds after landing.

BA has 13 A350-1000s, with 250 pilots assigned to the type. Basnett says the aircraft is one he “feels at home in”, and argues that it is “completely futureproof”, already prepared for the implementation of new independent approach patterns at airports.

He says Airbus has “nailed it in many ways” with the A350, adding that it “stands up well” compared with the Boeing 777. “It’s a fantastic [aircraft],” he says.

“Pilots love flying it.”