Aviation

747 Cargo Pilot Schedule: A busy month

Behind the scenes of @flywitheva

Via the posts and stories on my Instagram account I share bits of my life, my travels and my work. But: how much do I really work? How many trips a month? How long do I get to stay at destinations and what do I do on layovers? What about all those roster changes and how do I cope with sleeping at weird times? What do I do when I’m off? You followers are a curious bunch! But I am all for showing ‘reality’, the unfiltered truth, both the good and the bad! Let me take you on a detailed journey. I do not have a stable roster and every month is completely different.

I already wrote about my month of April 2019. I was too busy to write about the months after, but the blog article was appreciated according to the feedback I got on it. So here is another month: right in the middle of summer, July 2019. I picked this month, as it was a really busy month, where I flew almost 100 hours, which is really a lot for the operations we do.

Every 15th of the month I get my schedule for the following month. So on the 15th of June I receive my schedule for the month of July. Scheduled are a 6-day trip to Alaska and Mexico; on this trip I will get my line check to upgrade in my First Officer position to ‘relief qualified’. Then a 4 day trip to Delhi and Hanoi, followed by a long back to back trip Hong Kong/Dacha/Hanoi/Hong Kong. Then a trip where I position* to Chennai, to have a 2-day layover, to fly Bangalore/Hong Kong. (*See terminology list at the end of this article) The month ends with a block of standby*. Ok, let’s do this!

Week 1

After 2 weeks of leave, which I spent in The Netherlands and Finland, I fly from Helsinki back to Hong Kong on the 27th of June. My boyfriend Brian flies the same day from Helsinki to Barcelona, to start his weeks working as a tour guide. He will be hiking with a tour group in the Pyrenees this time. I still have a couple of days off till my next flight, which is on the 4th of July. I am pretty much a hermit this week, studying non stop. I have my ‘relief qualified line check’ as my first trip this month. Last month I already passed a simulator assessment, but I also need to fly an exam on the line. If I pass this exam I will be allowed to fly with flight crew of junior ranks (Second Officers and Non Relief Qualified First Officers) when the Captain rests on long haul flights. I will then be responsible for this part of the flight. Important topics that will most likely get discussed are emergency procedures, diversions, decision making and flying escape routes over high terrain in case of dual engine failure or loss of pressurisation. I study the whole week from morning till evening. I review big parts of the operations manual, review systems and procedures, and the routes and destinations I will fly. A few times I requested a trip to Mexico, but never got it on my roster: of course now I get these to me new airports on my check! My check is Hong Kong – Anchorage, and Anchorage – Mexico City – Guadalajara. Mexico City and Guadalajara are both high elevation airports, making them more challenging destinations in our network. Two days before the check my examiner sends me an e-mail; I have to be pilot flying* on two sectors, and pilot monitoring* on one. He lets me choose which sectors. I seek advice with some colleagues, and as Mexico City has a ‘famous’ quite challenging approach, I decide to do this sector as pilot monitoring, and fly the other two.

Passed my exam 🙂 !

So on the 4th of July my line check starts. My report is at 12:15. I am really nervous and it’s hard to snap out of it. The whole crew (the Examiner, another Captain and a Senior First Officer) notices it. They are such a nice bunch, setting a good atmosphere, that I manage to relax, and stop thinking about possibly making mistakes all the time. It’s weird how the fact that it’s a ‘check’ today, makes this standard flight from Hong Kong to Anchorage (we fly this route all the time!) now feel challenging. The flight goes well, and after landing in Anchorage the examiner assures me I am doing a good job so far. We get in the hotel by 08:30 in the morning Anchorage time, and we agree to all meet in the evening to go for dinner in town. I go straight to bed, and sleep the whole day (night time for our bodyclock). We then have a great evening. The weather is amazing, and it’s high summer so it stays light till almost midnight. I meet a lot of nice colleagues, it’s the 4th of July, so Anchorage feels very festive, and we go to several rooftop terraces with live music. I stay out long, so I can sleep again on my normal night bodyclock during the day. In the evening the trip continues, and I feel fairly relaxed after the first part of the check. We fly two sectors through the night: Mexico City and Guadalajara. The examiner lands in Mexico City, and then I take it to Guadalajara; a short flight, and all goes well. In the hotel the examiner debriefs me, and I passed my check, happy days!

Now it’s time to sleep a few hours, before we go out with the crew to celebrate. We go to a great restaurant, called Casa de Los Platos. Nice food and a good atmosphere! It’s my first time in Mexico, but the layover is short: already the next morning we fly to Anchorage again.

Week 2

In Anchorage we have minimum rest only; we land in the afternoon, and fly out very early in the morning again. My bodyclock is messed up by now, so I have troubles sleeping, and hit the gym for a good run before we fly out. It helps and energises me a lot. We land back in Hong Kong in the morning of Tuesday the 9th of July. I arrive to an empty home; Brian is still working in Europe. I have a couple of days off now 🙂 After my week of literally being a hermit studying, and the check last week, I now catch up on social life in Hong Kong. I meet up with friends every day, go out in the city, and go to plenty of yoga and other sports classes to balance out last trip. On Friday I have my annual medical exam. It takes about 40 minutes to tick all the boxes (eye test, hearing test etcetera), then I walk out with a renewed medical.

On Sunday evening I report for a night flight to Delhi. I am scheduled to fly with a Captain I flew with before (after one year on the line I still fly most of the time with colleagues I never met). This will be a fun trip. We fly three sectors together, and he gives me two to be pilot flying. He flies out to Delhi. We fly past a long line of huge thunderstorms, and the view is amazing and humbling. After landing late at night we have minimum rest in Delhi; we take off next afternoon again. No time to do anything, besides resting for the next flight.

Week 3

Monday. Today our trip continues from Delhi to Hanoi. This is my favourite destination in Asia. It’s an interesting departure today, as we have some technical issues to deal with. When we are ready to push back, Delhi airport is affected by the heaviest rainfall you can imagine. Within no time the apron is completely flooded. The technical issues affect our start procedures, which take quite some extra time now. When we are finally ready to taxi, it has cleared up again, making for a smooth departure. We land in Hanoi fairly late in the evening. When we arrive in the hotel we change quickly, to have a drink in town before everything closes. It’s a nice evening, and I invite my colleague to join me tomorrow, when I will meet up with a follower from Instagram.

The next morning I hit the gym, then meet up with the Captain and the Instagram follower. He is an FAA international airworthiness safety inspector, working for some weeks in Hanoi, and he reached out via e-mail to see if I wanted to meet up. I love this about social media. We have a great afternoon talking, drinking Vietnamese coffee and sharing a meal in the evening. (The funny thing is that I meet up with him again two months later, on a layover in Anchorage, when he is there on a trip! He then gets me in touch with his local friend, to go flying in a sea plane!) After dinner we need to get ready, and I operate the short flight to Hong Kong. We land late at night.

I have Wednesday off, and then on Thursday I have a really long day of almost 16 hours duty. It’s operating Hong Kong to Dhaka and then to Hanoi, then wait some hours to position back from Hanoi to Hong Kong as passengers on an A320. Out the door by 0700, back past midnight. Before my report I meet Brian in the Hong Kong airport terminal; he just landed from his work trip in Europe and will now be back in Hong Kong with me for 5 weeks. I have not seen him since Finland, and can’t wait to get back tonight. The day itself is long, but enjoyable! I am off for two days now. I catch up with Brian and we meet up with friends in the evening. On Saturday a friend of Brian arrives from Melbourne in Hong Kong, to stay with us a few days.

On Sunday I have to leave again: I am scheduled to position* to Chennai. But when I arrive at dispatch, there is a new plan for me: I go to Australia instead! It’s my first time down under. I have to operate to Sydney, and then stay on board to continue positioning to Melbourne.

Week 4

We fly all night to Sydney. I am so excited, as I have never been to Australia yet, and I had not anticipated this trip. The Captain took the sector, and I monitor at the take off, and the other First Officer monitors at the approach. I get the last rest at the end of the night, which is perfect. I sleep in the bunk, then enjoy the approach at Sydney from the observers seat, then stumble back to the bunk for more sleep. The other crew members have a layover in Sydney, but I continue to Melbourne. When we land I greet the flight crew that brought me here (they continue to Hong Kong), and I go to the crew hotel in Melbourne. I am on my own for this layover; I check but the crew I fly with tomorrow is not yet in Melbourne. After changing I wander through some areas of the city. I had packed for India, so no jumper or anything, and it’s really chilly here! I buy some good coffee and wine to take with me to Hong Kong, and then meet up spontaneously with a follower from Melbourne. We have a lovely dinner, some good Australian food!

The next day I brunch in one of the many cool cafes (our hotel is really in the downtown area), then meet the crew to fly to Wellcamp Toowoomba, and then to Hong Kong. I mentioned a lot about flying to uncontrolled airport Toowoomba in my Instagram posts already, check them out, it was such a fun experience 🙂 We fly all afternoon and evening, to land back in Hong Kong at 0100. Now I have 3 days off before my block of standbys* starts on Sunday. Brians friend is still in Hong Kong and we all go for a hike at Lamma Island. On Saturday there is a fun beach party where I go to with a bunch of friends.

Landing Wellcamp Toowoomba

The days off went too quick. On Sunday my standby* starts at 1200, and I get called out after a few hours. I need to position to Mumbai on a 777 flight in the evening, to stay for one day and then operate back. So I pack my bag again, and off to the airport we go.

Week 5

We arrive deep in the night in Mumbai. I feel tired, it’s been quite a busy month. I sleep in majorly and then hit the gym. When I want to get ready for the night flight back to Hong Kong, I get a notification letter slipped under my hotelroom door: the flight is delayed for 24 hours. I take it as an opportunity to relax and enjoy some extra rest. It’s really bad weather so I stay in the hotel, and book a nice massage in the spa. Then it’s a night flight to Hong Kong. We land back in Hong Kong Wednesday at 0930 in the morning. Tired again after working the whole night, I call crew control to see if there are messages for me. Yes: I have to crew up in the simulator for a proficiency check in the simulator tomorrow. Pfft I am not feeling it, first I need some sleep.

I sleep a few hours, then get up to not mess up my sleep tonight. Tomorrows simulator examiner texts me that I can make it my own check as well if I want, as he saw my own proficiency check is scheduled later in the month of August. I am in doubt, as I feel tired and like to prepare the exam thoroughly. I prepare the rest of the evening as good as I can. When I arrive at our training centre the next morning, I decide last minute to have my own check as well today. Good choice, as the session goes really well! In the exam we deal with low visibility operations, a rejected take-off, engine failures, RNAV approaches and a fire and evacuation. When the session finishes at 15:30, I call to see if there are changes for me tomorrow. I get assigned a flight to Shanghai, with a report at 05:40 the next morning. This block of standby’s certainly puts me to work! In the end this was so far the busiest month for me on the B747. Hope you enjoyed the insights in my schedule!

Summary:

Scheduled trips: 4; Anchorage/Mexico City/Guadalajara/Anchorage, Delhi/Hanoi, Dakha/Hanoi, Chennai/Bangalore, and a block of standby’s.
Actual trips: 5; Anchorage/Mexico City/Guadalajara/Anchorage, Delhi/Hanoi, Dakha/Hanoi, Sydney/Melbourne/Toowoomba, Mumbai – and a proficiency check.

Number of duty days:18
Number of days off: 11
Number of O-days*: 2

Some terminology:

Pilot Flying – The pilot who does the set-up, the take-off and landing on a flight and is responsible for the navigation.

Pilot Monitoring – The pilot who monitors the actions of the pilot flying, and is responsible for the walk around (external inspection of the plane), the communication and checklist reading.

Positioning flight – Duty travel. The company needs the pilot to be at a certain airport for further duties, but this is not an operating sector. The pilot travels as a passenger, either on a company airplane, or with another company. The pilot travels in uniform, but normally changes on board (right after boarding and back before landing). Normally positioning trips are in business class.

Standby day – a day (usually 6 hours) where the pilot has to be contactable by phone as the company can call the pilot for any duty. Report time is 2 hours and 15 minutes from call to report. It is also possible to be called out for a flight that starts much later. 

O-days – Company days scheduled usually after a trip or simulator session. After your trip or simulator duty you need to call the company. Now your O-day can be changed into any duty, but if there is nothing planned for you now you get to be off.

 

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8 Comments

  • Reply Fernando Barandiaran October 9, 2019 at 20:12

    Thanks for explanining it with so good detail! i almost felt the stress and duties!!!

    Continue like this please!!!

    • Reply Eva October 10, 2019 at 10:46

      Thank you for your feedback! Happy to learn you liked to read it, there will definitely be more articles, stay tuned 🙂

  • Reply İrfan benli October 9, 2019 at 22:49

    Thanks a lot Eva for sharing yr experiences in so much details with us.Really appreciated.

    • Reply Eva October 10, 2019 at 10:46

      You are welcome, glad you liked it :)!

  • Reply Glenn October 10, 2019 at 11:12

    Wow…you are one busy young lady. We all think being a long haul pilot is glamorous and exciting but your article puts things into reality for us.
    Very exciting trips and travel and great reading Eva. Love to live my life through the posts and articles of the many pilots I follow on social media.
    Keep up the great work and smooth skies ahead Eva ‍✈️✈

    • Reply Eva October 13, 2019 at 17:03

      Thanks for your comment Glenn! That’s exactly my aim with this article; to keep it real with actual insights 🙂 Take care!

  • Reply Asif Mohammad October 14, 2019 at 17:38

    Hi thanks for sharing your experience I always ❤️ get inspired.

  • Reply ClarenceL October 18, 2019 at 07:37

    Love your blog, do you have to get immigration stamps in every country like anyone else? I travel a lot for business and am quickly headed towards my third passport in as many years, it’s such a pain!

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