New Zealander Richard Smith will captain the first of the first regular Emirates superjumbo services between Auckland and Dubai, starting on October 31.

The North Shore-raised 51-year-old is one of 95 Kiwi pilots among more than 4000 flying for the Middle East airline. He describes his job and what it's like to fly the world's biggest airliner, the 575-tonne A380.

Where did you learn to fly?

I learned to fly at Ardmore, it was a typical general aviation background where you do anything you can to try and get more hours. I became an instructor in Palmerston North ended up in Hastings doing ambulance flights. My first airline job was Eagle Air flying the (Embraer) Bandeirante aircraft and moved on to Ansett in New Zealand when it was still around.


How long have you been at Emirates

I've been flying with Emirates for 16 years. I joined on Boeing 777s as a first officer for three years then a captain. I've been on A380s for about three years. I grabbed the opportunity to move to the A380 for a bit of variety, it almost revitalises your career a bit.

What's the difference between the 777 and the A380? (Besides the yoke or centre stick in the Boeing and the sidestick located on the side console of the pilot in the Airbus)

They're both fantastic aircraft with the way that they're set up with fly-by-wire. With the A380 on the runway when you take off you feel as if you're in a massive airplane - but it's very light in the controls. The movements are very subtle.

Richard Smith, a Kiwi pilot flying Emirates' A380s.
Richard Smith, a Kiwi pilot flying Emirates' A380s.

How did you get to be flying the A380 out of Auckland next week?

I saw it come up and the company contacted me. They try their best to get local pilots to operate the first new flights. Every three or four months I do the Auckland flight. Coming from New Zealand it's much better to do the direct flight and not go via Australia.

How is the four-person flight crew organised during the 17-hour flight.

For the ultra-long range flights four pilots are split in two crews for each sector. The operating crew do the take off and landing and then split the flight in half with the augmenting crew. The operating crew have the second rest and come back (into the cockpit) about an hour before landing.


What are the most challenging parts of the flight?

Takeoff and landing are the most dynamic part of the flight - the main challenge is the huge variety of airports ranging from freezing in Moscow to tropical a few days later.

Watch: Emirates' 360° cockpit tour of Airbus A380:
Use mousepad, click pad and compass to fly through the cockpit

Most of the flight is spent on autopilot, what are you doing during that time?

When in cruise we're monitoring the flight path and keeping a close eye out for airports nearby in case of any eventuality. It's a big aircraft with lots of passengers so the potential for a medical diversion is always there. We do fly a long way away from airports over ocean and the North Pole. When in cruise you're keeping a careful eye on your surroundings and the environment to make sure where you are if you're required to go anywhere else.

In the newer A380s pilots rest in a secure compartment in the lower area of the plane. What's it like?

There's plenty of room to get up and move around. We've got the IFE (inflight entertainment) You try and get as much rest as you can in there but if you don't fall asleep you watch a movie

What's the food like?

Similar to passenger meals but they're all different because we cant eat exactly the same stuff on board because of the danger of food poisoning We try to keep it as healthy as possible, there's plenty of fruit on board.

Is it ever boring?

It's rare to be flying with the same person. You're flying with guys who are from all parts of the world with completely different cultures and background to what your used so you talk to them.