Captain Roman Landowski with his wife in the cockpit of the plane
Captain Roman Landowski with his wife in the cockpit of the plane | Photo: private archives

Interview with Captain Roman Landowski

Captain Roman Landowski - pilot, instructor of Antonov 24, Tupolev 154, Boeing 737, 767 and 787 aircraft. In the early 1990s, as head of the Boeing 737 Division, he introduced the new generation of aircraft into LOT's flight operations, training dozens of pilots with a group of instructors. He retired in July 2022.

What were your feelings about the end of your work at LOT Polish Airlines?

Above all, a sense of fulfillment associated with the completion of a certain stage of life. Considering that the company has been in business for 93 years, I have worked here for almost half of its history.

Beginnings of work in aviation

So how did the story begin?

I grew up in Gdynia and since childhood I was inspired by the atmosphere of travel. Life in the Tricity (Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot) was quite cosmopolitan for those days. One constantly heard that someone from a family of colleagues had taken a ship to Japan, the Mediterranean or Rio de Janeiro. My dream was to become a sailor or a pilot. This dream led me through aeroclub, gliding, sport flying in airplanes and engineering studies, to the LOT Polish Airlines pilot course in December 1980. There were more than forty of us. Most of the group flew happily until the age of 65, which is the limit for pilots working in passenger aviation.

Was it difficult to become a pilot in those years?

At the time, it was a long-term process, and commitment was important. Gliding consumed the entire summer vacation, and I spent every free moment, flying at gliding groupings and competitions in various centers: Leszno, Grudziądz or in the mountains on Żar. I consider my greatest achievements of that time to be the Golden Gliding Badge with three Diamonds, airplane training on a Zlin 326 and, most importantly, meeting my future wife Mira, then a glider and airplane pilot.

After graduation, I also took the mandatory Reserve Officers' School at the airport in Pruszcz Gdański. 

The aviation job market, in addition to military aviation, offered agro-aircraft services, air ambulance service and a job at PLL LOT. The choice fell on LOT.

How was the recruitment process for LOT Polish Airlines in the 1980s?

The LOT's HR employees of the PRL period verified not only their credentials, licenses, airfare, Russian and English languages, but also their "civic attitude."

Embraer 175 wing and Embraer 190 aircraft in the background

First years at LOT Polish Airlines

How do you recall your beginnings in the company?

Quite a long theoretical course and desired to fly on Antonov-24 on domestic lines. I was young, ambitious, everything was great, and after just nine years of getting to know Polish airports, I switched to larger aircraft on international routes.

Later came a revolution: the switch to Boeings...

LOT launched Boeing 767s and 737s in its route network as the first carrier in the group of socialist countries. This brought many changes to our work. Undoubtedly, we, as the team introducing these machines, had a great responsibility to update aviation documentation and procedures, which we created almost from scratch. For the benefit of younger readers, I will mention that at that time there was no Internet or cell phones. It took a good few years before these procedures were standardized throughout passenger aviation.

Once the procedures are in place, has the work system also changed?

Previously, we flew in multi-person crews: captain, first officer, mechanic, navigator, radio operator. In the 1990s, we switched to two-man crews. Admittedly, more processes in Boeings were automated, but nevertheless two pilots sitting next to each other had to handle all activities previously shared between four or five people. This was a huge challenge! In addition, of course, a huge change was the introduction of English in place of Russian. However, this made us feel that the Iron Curtain had fallen and the aviation world was open to us.

How do you recall your first trips to Seattle for training on the B737?

Great time. The trainings were very professionally prepared, and we participated in them with great energy and enthusiasm. We absorbed the knowledge, because it was really a new quality, lots of innovations. Faxes were constantly circulating between LOT and Boeing with lists of more groups scheduled for training. In 1992, we were invited as the first group of trainee pilots to test the Boeing 737. Before the first LOT units rolled off the production lines, our capabilities were tested.

When we mention the fax machine, it is now difficult for us to imagine the operation of an airline without the Internet. How did you make such changes by analog?

We benefited from the experience of other airlines, we had an agreement with SAS, among others. Another carrier offered us familiarization flights and very helpful training materials. Based on these we created our internal documentation. The lack of Internet, of course, made this process tedious, it was impossible to download any ready-made materials or quickly check the regulations we were obliged to follow. We relied heavily on private relationships and contacts. To this day I still remember how much a minute of conversation with the US cost. This period resulted in a number of changes that worked for many years, and often still work today.

What other experiences from this period do you consider to be the most important for you and the company?

The introduction in Flight of landings under the second category rules, the so-called CAT II, that is, in visibility conditions of less than 200 meters. Being able to land in fog was a huge breakthrough. Previously, during adverse weather conditions, our planes were forced to depart to alternate airports or turn back from their routes. Now LOT Polish Airlines began to be perceived at European airports as a carrier that has entered the elite and is operationally professionally managed. Boeing planes allowed these new fog operations, although there were no regulations in Poland to sanction this. We found some of the necessary knowledge in LOT's library at the time, and we were able to create the procedures themselves, using models from Scandinavian and American airlines.

Winglet of Boeing 737 and taxiing Embraer 170

More professional challenges

After a year and a half of flying on Boeings, you decided to take an unpaid leave of absence from LOT and set off into the world...

With all these experiences, knowledge and skills, we felt we could conquer the world. And so we did. Along with several LOT colleagues, we applied for jobs with foreign airlines through British brokers.  We flew in India, in Korea, in Bangkok. We earned ridiculous amounts of money, even by today's standards.

Before that, however, we were subject to multiple tests, examinations and tests. We flew under British regulations and had to demonstrate our knowledge of them. Fluent communication was a necessary condition, as it involved the creation of documentation that was verified by the aviation authorities there. Insurance companies had to recognize our licenses and the resulting authorizations on the basis of the opinions of the aviation authorities of the countries where we flew and the Polish authorities.

During my two years abroad as an instructor, I had the opportunity to train many captains.  After returning to LOT Polish Airlines, I switched from a Boeing 737 to a larger 767, because the natural career path is to fly on bigger and bigger aircraft and farther and farther away.

Boeing 737 fuselage and engine

What was LOT Polish Airlines like 40 years ago?

In relations, we had fewer "electronic intermediaries," there was no need to bounce passes before entering rooms. There were fewer of us, so relations were also more direct. For example, you could get extra days off to settle personal problems.

Many families have been saved thanks to this, which from the perspective of other professions may seem incomprehensible, but here the main goal is the safety of flight operations.

Despite less traffic in the air at the time, it was easier to make a mistake, aircraft were much more demanding. Today, the level of security and automation is much higher, but the traffic is also significantly higher. I feel a slight nostalgia for those days, but I don't think young people today are missing that.

Life outside the cockpit

In your aviation career you have been accompanied from the beginning by your wife, who is a pilot and aviation medical doctor...

We met during the period of glider flying in Leszno. Mira was the prettiest of her colleagues, also intellectually she impressed me. Together we went through all stages of aviation initiation. In LOT Polish Airlines we had the opportunity to fly together many times.

Is such close cooperation good for the relationship?

I believe that. My wife is an ENT doctor and aviation medical examiner, a LOT Polish Airlines pilot. She understands all the dependencies, necessities and limitations. As a result, we understand each other very well and - having common goals - we look in the same direction. We have the same intellectual and sports interests. For many years we continued to fly gliders, went scuba diving, windsurfing and skiing. The aviation adventure continues, we fly sport planes and paragliders.

An oft-repeated quote from the book "Memoirs of an Aviator" by Jerzy Damsz: Son, be careful, fly low and slow.... In retirement, we put these words into practice with joy.

We wish all colleagues similar joy and health, which are essential for the development of aeronautical interests.