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Braun: Airline pilot’s fact-filled lectures lend an air of wisdom to flight

November 15, 2011
john-tadros-pilot.JPGJohn O’Boyle/The Star-LedgerContinental pilot John Tadros walks through Terminal C in Newark Liberty International Airport on Tuesday.

JERSEY CITY — Expectations are low when it comes to air travel. That’s what makes John Tadros such a find.

“It doesn’t cost me anything,” says Tadros, a pilot for Continental/United who looks like the actor Kevin Spacey. He likes to think he looks like Nicolas Cage. He doesn’t.

What the Jersey City resident does that he says doesn’t cost him anything does, in fact, cost him — time and effort. He pores over books, magazines, government reports and web sites about airplanes, engines, statistics of all sorts that makes him a walking — well, flying — encyclopedia of travel and related topics.

“I’m a geek that way, I love facts and statistics,” says Tadros, 44. He graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a degree in biology because his parents, Egyptian immigrants, wanted their only child to become a doctor.

By the time he got that degree, at 23, he already had a private pilot’s license and was on his way toward fulfilling his own dream and that dream had nothing to do with wearing a white coat and a stethoscope. The uniform he wanted, and eventually got, is different — the black, military-style officer’s get-up of an airline captain.

“Flying has always meant freedom to me. I took my first lesson at 16 and was hooked for life.”

He has tried to learn everything about the physics, engineering and business of flying — “And what’s the point of knowing it all without telling people?”

So he does.

Tadros has developed a reputation throughout his airline for his fact-dense, humor-laced lectures about the realities of flying, delivered at the beginning and end of each flight.

Most pilots greet passengers over the PA system at the beginning of each flight and welcome them to their destination at the end — with, on occasion, warnings of turbulence in the middle. Not Tadros. He brings aboard hand written notes relevant to that day’s flight. He opens by announcing he is a “Jersey boy,” heaping praise on his crew — identifying those who are from New Jersey as well — and then goes into the facts. Like this:

“This 737 is powered by two GE-CFM High Bypass Ratio engines, each capable of 24,000 pounds of thrust,” he says at the beginning of a flight to Dallas the other day. “That’s 48,000 pounds of thrust.

“That’s capable of lifting this fully-loaded airplane weighing 124,000 pounds, the equivalent of a fully-loaded tractor-trailer and 10 of the largest SUVS you can buy.”

High ByPass ratio engines are quieter and more fuel-efficient than older engines, he says, because not all the air passing through them is combusted. That’s part of his opening shtick. It goes on like that for some time.

During a recent flight from Houston to Mexico City, a first-class passenger stopped at the flight deck, congratulated Tadros for his knowledge and handed him his business card. The card, which Tadros carries around with him, was from Jean-Paul Ebanga, president and CEO of CFM International, the manufacturer of the engine.

“One of the best sales pitches I ever heard,” Ebanga wrote on the back of the card and invited Tadros to lunch. The pilot also carries with him other fan mail, notes written on the back of boarding passes or random scraps of paper.

“Our pilots normally don’t get fan mail,” says Rahsaan Johnson, communications director for Continental/United. “John is well-known.”

Tadros offers another lecture as he descends. It deals with fuel consumption and how much more fuel his passengers would have used if they each drove cars to their destination.

“This airplane consumed 2,164 gallons of jet fuel,” he says. “That compares to 4,730 gallons of gasoline you would have used if you all had driven to Dallas from Newark, a trip that, without stopping for sleep or anything else, would have taken you 21 hours.”

Airlines, he says, use 19 billion gallons of fuel each year, only 7 percent of all fuel used in the world. “That makes flight by far the most efficient and safest way to travel,” he says.

The flight to Dallas — and this writer was a passenger — also had this going for it: Tadros left on time and arrived 30 minutes early. The combination of unexpected benefits led to a long line of passengers waiting for the chance to thank Tadros personally for the entertaining flight.

“I love it,” he says.


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