As a captain and instructor with the German flag carrier, Cordula Pflaum regularly flies the newest additions to the fleet and trains other pilots in the finer points of a constantly changing profession.
Have you always wanted to be a pilot?
Since I was 11 years old – and I was determined to follow that dream.
Tell us about your career to date
I started at the age of 19 with Lufthansa Aviation Training in Germany. A two-year training period followed in Bremen and Goodyear, Arizona, USA. I then became first officer with Lufthansa with ratings on the Airbus A320, A310 and A300. A short stint as senior first officer on the Boeing MD-11 offered an insight into flying for Lufthansa Cargo. I obtained my upgrade to commander in 2005 on the A320. After three years of flying as captain for Condor Berlin, I was promoted to long-haul on A330/A340s at Lufthansa, based in Munich. In 2009 I was selected by the airline as type rating instructor and type rating examiner on the A330/A340-300 and -600. During this time I was part of the start-up team for enrolling Lufthansa’s first A350.
What have been the highlights?
Inducting the A350 into the Lufthansa fleet. As the airliner’s first female long-haul check captain I enjoyed receiving the type rating at Airbus in Toulouse. Today we operate four of the type.
What have been the lowlights?
When I finished my training in 1992, Lufthansa had frozen pilot recruitment due to the Iraq war. This freeze lasted for over two years, so I wasn’t able to start flying with the airline until the end of 1994.
What aircraft has been most enjoyable to fly?
The A350. It has the most advanced interface structure of any model I have experienced so far.
Tell us about your current role?
At the moment I fulfil several functions at the company. I mainly work as captain, instructor and examiner on the A330, A340-600 and A350, but I also work as a trainer and supervisor in the advanced human factors department at Lufthansa Aviation Training. Here I teach leadership and customer relationship management skills to flightcrews from a host of airlines. Last but not least, I support the crisis incident stress management team from the Mayday Foundation as a co-ordinator in crisis intervention, to help crews deal with incidents that have happened at work.
What are the key challenges facing commercial airline pilots today?
Nowadays pilots have many roles to perform, such as managing regulations and monitoring the boarding process. For example, if the pilot sees that the flight time is 20min shorter than expected, he/she can decide to delay the departure – with the co-operation of the hub control centre and air traffic control – in order to load late baggage onto the aircraft. Instances of diversion landings due to unruly passengers or medical cases are also on the rise. The final decision to divert the aircraft is always taken by the pilot. Fatigue risk management is becoming an increasingly important issue as the ranges of long-haul aircraft expand and maximum flight times for pilots grow. The commander has to take care of himself and his crew.
Where do you see your career 10 years from now?
In 10 years’ time I will be 57 years old. If I am still in good shape and pass my medicals with no problems, I will be working in the same field. I would like to be even more involved in the process of developing and monitoring the training standards for pilots at Lufthansa, for example as chief training captain.