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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.

 

Aviation

The life of a 747 cargo pilot – April 2019

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? How 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, but heads up: it’s not an article about the operational procedures. It’s rather an overview of the trips and an insight on work versus time off. As I do not have a stable roster and every month is completely different, I will start with last month: April 2019. If you guys like it, I will make it a monthly article on my blog.

Every 15th of the month I get my schedule for the following month. So on the 15th of March, I receive my schedule for the month of April. I am really pleased when it comes out: so far I was not so lucky with our ‘flight request system’, but now I got the two trips I requested. I will have my first trip to Amsterdam and Frankfurt, and my first trip to Dubai! I also have 6 days of standby* rostered, a ground course day, and I finish the month with ‘joker days’ *(see terminology list at the end of this article). Let’s start now with the journey of April 🙂

Week 1

I am off on the first and second of April. My first trip is a PX trip* from Hong Kong to Amsterdam, in the night of 3 to 4 April. I try to reschedule my PX flight to an earlier day, as to have more time in my home country. But as my roster might still change due to some disruptions on the 747 fleet, I don’t get approval. I have not been back in The Netherlands since November last year, so I am excited to fly ‘home’. On the third of April I meet with the crew at dispatch* for the start of my first trip: with the A350 to Amsterdam. It’s a 14 hour trip through the night: perfect to be a passenger now! I manage to sleep a few hours and we land in Amsterdam at 7 in the morning, where my mum is eagerly waiting for me at arrivals. I have a 28 hour layover in Amsterdam, my trip continues tomorrow late morning. Normally I would now go to the crew hotel, but since this is ‘home’ I go to my parents place in Haarlem first. I spend the day catching up with my mum, and in the evening I go for dinner with a close friend, whom I did not see for ages. So fun to have this as part of my work trip! I should request Amsterdam as often as possible! After dinner my parents bring me to the crew hotel at the airport, I pick up my allowance* and stay the night in the hotel, as tomorrow I fly to Frankfurt.

My report is at 11:00 in the morning. I sleep in, skip breakfast, and prepare* the flight via our company iPad. The captain emailed me that I need to meet him at the gate, as he just flew in himself and is not in the hotel at the moment. While I find my way to the gate I bump into a good friend of mine, he is a captain at KLM. He is amazed to meet me here, as normally I am at the other side of the world, and suddenly the world feels so small again. I love operating for the very first time out of Amsterdam airport, I feel so happy! It turns out a lot of the Schiphol ground crew follow me on Instagram, and it’s great to meet them. After chatting a bit and taking pictures with them, it’s time to close the doors and get on with the show 😉 The flight from Amsterdam to Frankfurt is a super short one (one hour flight). On arrival the captain has a different schedule, and I am the only one going to the crew hotel in Mainz. I get picked up with our crew transport. My layover is 28 hours, and after this short flight I am not tired at all. I meet up with a ramp controller of Frankfurt Airport. We have been in touch via Instagram for quite some time now, and he is the most amazing person showing me all around Mainz. We walk all afternoon through the city, go for dinner in a typical German restaurant (schnitzel!) and only by the end of the night my jetlag starts to creep up on me. However I still let my new friend convince me to join him to a party right next to our crew hotel. It’s an 80s/90s party, good fun, but I stick to lemonade as tomorrow I am working again. Finally I call it a night and collapse into bed. It’s early morning now for my body clock, but as I pulled through all ‘night’ I have no issues to fall asleep.

Normally I never take hotel breakfast buffet (never very hungry in the morning) but my colleagues told me the Frankfurt breakfast is absolutely worth it. So I drag myself out of bed, and still half asleep proceed to the breakfast, which is indeed a feast. I bump into some colleagues and share breakfast with a colleague who is on my crew later today. Then I still have some hours to kill and it is glorious sunny weather, so I go for a run next to the Rhine river. Oh how I love being back in Europe! I feel full of energy again. Soon it’s time to prepare the flight on my iPad. Report with the Captain and Second Officer is at 17:45 (night for the body clock though) , and now we have a long duty of almost 16 hours: we fly from Frankfurt to Amsterdam, then from Amsterdam to Hong Kong. The captain lets me choose the sector I want to fly. So I pick the first sector, as I want to land in Amsterdam.

 

In Amsterdam a 4th crew member joins us, as we have the very long duty, so we divide operating and resting. Some hours after departure to Hong Kong it is my time to rest. I anticipate about 3 hours of sleep in the bunk, and fall asleep immediately. It turns out I have the best colleagues: they let me sleep 6,5 hours non stop, and we are just before descending into Hong Kong airspace when I wake up. I almost want to hug the second officer for taking all the hours in cruise flight, but he was happy to do it, and I am now super rested. I am pilot monitoring for approach and when we land it’s 16:00 on Sunday afternoon. This trip was so much fun! I catch up with my boyfriend Brian, and have 3 days off now.

Week 2

I spend the days off with Brian and friends in Hong Kong. We go to ‘our’ Monday pub quiz, and ‘our’ Tuesday Bootcamp class, and on Wednesday organise a big dinner at our place in Wan Chai. We try to have some routine in both our ever changing schedules. Brian is also a lot in and out of Hong Kong, as he works regularly abroad as a travel guide. My next duty is a flight to Dubai on Thursday 11 April. I have never been in Dubai and look forward to have a layover there, even if it’s just 23 hours. I know the captain, he loves motor bike riding. When I see his name on the flight to Dubai I jokingly text him if we should go sand biking. He loves the idea: in the end he finds a company where we can both learn to ride bikes in the sand dunes, me without a motor bike license as well! I am now even more excited for the layover! But then – insert sad music – I wake up on Thursday with a very high fever. Everything hurts. I am in no state to work, and am absolutely bummed to miss out on the trip. I call in sick, and fall asleep for about 24 hours. The next morning I feel worse, I have a bad cough and my fever is even higher, so I visit a doctor in Hong Kong. He prescribes rest and medication, and gives me a note I am unfit for 3 days. So far week 2, and no this did not make it to Instagram 😉

Week 3

On Tuesday I am still really ill, and drag myself to the doctor for the second time. He confirms I am still in no state to work, and sends me to stay home for another 3 days. Basically all I do is sleep. On Thursday, one week after waking up sick, I finally start to be back on my feet again. I am annoyed it took so long. We had guests (friends of Brian from Singapore) over in our place as well, but I have not been able to spend any time with them! My next duty is a standby on Friday, from 0600-1200. I don’t get called out! On Saturday another standby: I get a call at 06:01 to report as soon as I can for a Shanghai flight. We have 2 hours and 15 minutes to report at Dispatch after a standby callout. My commute takes about one hour, to one hour 15 minutes. I rush for a shower, coffee, change into my uniform, and am quickly out of the door, as is my boyfriend who flies to Seoul this morning, for a trip with a friend. The Shanghai return is supposed to be a quick one. I am pilot flying to Shanghai, the captain takes it back to Hong Kong. When we are fully ready to go, after a 2 hour turnaround, we get a 3 hour slot (this means we can’t depart but have to wait at the stand in Shanghai)! It’s really bad weather in Hong Kong this afternoon, so the slot makes sure we don’t arrive in the middle of the storm. Not a bad thing: many go arounds and diversions in Hong Kong today. We finally land in Hong Kong at 20:00, after holding for quite some time. After the flight I call to see my duty for tomorrow, Sunday: standby from 10:00 to 16:00.

 

Will I have to work again today? Yep! I wake up without alarm at 09:00, and get a call at 10:45. My duty is to operate to Narita late tonight, report time 23:30, and then PX back on a company A330. Uff it looks like it’s going to be a long night. I take it easy today, study a bit for my upcoming ground course. I am very bad at having an evening nap before a night duty, so I pull through. I go to a ‘hot yoga’ class (which is like yoga and a sauna in one), then get ready and prepare the flight, and make the journey to dispatch. It turns out the flight is delayed a couple of hours and I need to wait 3 hours now at dispatch! I go to the ‘quiet room’, which is a new facility in the company, with dimmed light and lounge chairs, to rest in case of delays. I curl up into one of the chairs, but am unable to sleep. Finally, it’s time for our flight to Narita. We depart at 04:20, I am pilot flying as the captain gave me the choice. I feel surprisingly awake still, and chat with the captain all the way to Japan, to avoid getting sleepy. The flight is smooth and we watch a beautiful sunrise. In Narita the captain has a layover, and I need to proceed through customs and then to the gate, as I PX on the A330 straight back to Hong Kong.

Week 4

We depart Narita at 10:45. I am awake now since yesterday morning 09:00 and I am ready to collapse in my business class seat. After departure I tell the cabin crew to not wake me up for breakfast, then fall asleep till we start the descend into Hong Kong. I feel really tired still when I get home, after a duty of almost 18 hours. My boyfriend is not there, as he is still traveling in Korea. A friend invites me for wine and dinner, but I miss it, as I decide to take another ‘little nap’ but the nap lasts 9 hours as I fall asleep from 17:00 till 02:00. I then manage to fall asleep again for another 6 hours! I realise I write a lot about my sleeping patterns here, as it is one of the things that can be quite challenging to manage for pilots. After the recovery of my sleep debt, my sleep is back to normal. I study for my ground course tomorrow, and go to the Tuesday bootcamp class.

Wednesday I have a ground course all day at the head office. I am in a First Officer program, where I will write more about another time. (No it’s no Command course ;)! This step will take plenty more years in my current airline.) After the course my days off start, 7 in total! In the evening Brian comes back from his trip! We meet in central Hong Kong, where we celebrate a friends birthday. The next day we try to fly to Amsterdam on staff travel, as I now have my requested joker days off and Brians parents celebrate their combined birthdays this weekend in The Netherlands. It turns out the flight is completely overbooked! We try to figure out all options, different flights. In the end, I manage to get the jump seat to Amsterdam, and my boyfriend travels via Milan. The jump seat on the A350 is a non-reclinable seat in front of the crew bunks, in a small windowless room behind the flight deck. I’ve had more glamorous trips, but am simply happy I got on the flight! I spend the weekend celebrating the Dutch Kings Day and the celebration of Brians parents’ birthdays. After 2,5 days I fly back to Hong Kong already on Monday. Luckily there is plenty of space on this flight, and I booked myself a business class seat. I say goodbye to Brian, who flies to Bordeaux later and stays in Europe for 2,5 weeks, guiding tours in France and Spain. I land back in Hong Kong on Tuesday morning. l have the rest of the day off in Hong Kong (as margin and also to recover from all the flights again) before my next trip tomorrow, which is one for May :)!

So that was in quite some detail my month. It is difficult giving proper insight if I would leave out too much detail. Cargo flying comes with a lot of duty shifts (not so much this month actually), and lots of PX’ing as well, it’s not usually a matter of operating to a destination, layover, operating back. 

Summary:

Scheduled trips: 2; Amsterdam/Frankfurt and Dubai
Actual trips: 3; Amsterdam/Frankfurt, Dubai missed due unfit, but called out of standby for Shanghai and Narita.
Number of days off: 14 (including 5 joker days, and 3 ‘O’ days*)
Number of duty days: 10
Number of days unfit: 6

Some terminology:

Allowance – The money crew gets on layovers to cover expenses, usually in the local currency.

Dispatch – the place where the crew meets. It’s at my companies headquarters, next to Hong Kong airport. Here we prepare the flight, and clear crew security, before taking a crew bus to the airplane.

Flight preparation – My company makes use of an ‘EFB’; Electronic Flight Bag. We all have a personal company iPad, with charts, electronic manuals and several apps for flight preparation. Some time for the flight, we are able to download the operational flight plan, and prepare. We take note of the weather, the specifications for the route, notices for the different airfields, the required fuel, the airplane status, expected approach etcetera. So when we meet the rest of the crew at report, we all have a good idea of the duty ahead and we discuss shortly the things that stood out. 

Joker days – Every 4 months I can request 5 blocked ‘joker’ days off (for example for a wedding/birthday/something important). Well in advance I receive confirmation if this request is approved. Joker days are days off on top of normal days off and of leave days.

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.

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. 

PX – 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 PX 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. 

Aviation

How to prepare for an airline pilot interview

When it comes to securing a pilot job with an airline, think of the 5 P’s: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance (as pilots we love our acronyms). With this article I hope to give you some guidance in how to prepare for a pilot interview at any airline. I prepared for and passed two airline interviews myself. At my first interview I had only 220 hours flight experience, no jet time and a frozen ATPL license, and at the second interview I had 3000 hours jet experience and an unfrozen ATPL. With this background, I don’t claim to be an expert at all, but I feel I can at least provide you with some insights and advice. What to study, what to wear, do’s and don’ts. Find it all in this article, so you feel a bit more secure for the day that can make the difference between spotting airplanes on the ground, and operating them.

How to get invited for an interview?

Before you can start to prepare for a specific interview/assessment/selection process, first you have to get invited for an interview. Let’s start at the beginning of the process: you have to apply for a specific job. How do you find out if a specific airline is hiring? Research! 

  • Check the website of the airline where you want to apply. At the career page you can find the vacancies, and the details of how to apply for this specific position. Read carefully! Check the requirements (do you meet them?), check the deadline, and make sure you understand all the information they need for your application. Usually you have to upload several documents: your CV, a Cover Letter, and scans of for example your passport, license, medical. I kept a folder on my desktop with all my scanned documents. Make sure the scans are clear, and give the files a proper name (not scan001, but for example ‘medical + your last name’). 
  • Regarding your CV: less is more! No flight crew recruiter wants to see 4 pages full of information, how quick you can type, and all about your first job at the local bakery. Keep it relevant here! Try to fit your full CV on one page only. Focus on skills and experience relevant for the position you apply to. For each pilot job I applied to, I would check and adjust my CV, even if just a little.
  • Cover letter: I feel that one of the biggest mistakes you can make, is to add a general cover letter to your application. Don’t be lazy here, research the position and the airline you apply to thoroughly. Know what this airline stands for, and write a cover letter completely focused on this specific postion and this specific airline. What makes that you want to work for them, and why should they pick you…?
  • To know where could be your chance at a job, you can also browse networking websites such as LinkedIn, visit Pilot Career Days, and network with people in the aviation industry. Then after you applied: follow up if you can! Keep updating your profile in the career databank. Every time your flight hours or experience changes: time to update.

The different aspects of an airline pilot interview – and how to prepare for them

Let’s fast forward to the moment you get invited for an interview at the airline you applied to. Usually this invitation comes in via E-mail, and the time you have available to prepare can vary from very little (‘can you make it the day after tomorrow?’) to several months. So ideally you should be prepared for an assessment anytime. General advise is to keep current, both your skills and knowledge, and don’t ever let your license or medical expire! 

Every airline uses their own selection process, and usually the selections for the various positions (Second Officer, First Officer, Captain) differ as well. What you can expect at every selection, are a face to face interview where you need to answer both personal and technical questions, and a simulator assessment. Things that vary per airline, would be for example an initial Skype interview, a group exercise, an English language assessment, ATPL knowledge tests, and all kind of other tests like IQ, maths or psychometric/aptitude testing. How can you find out what your assessment will be like? Again, do your research. Try to get in touch with people in the airline you applied to. Also online you can find lots of information. On websites like the PPRuNe Forums you can find information and ask questions. And then there is Latest Pilot Jobs, where you can get interview preparation packages for several airlines for a fee. I invested in a preparation package for my last assessment, and in my opinion it was worth it. 

What to study?
  • ATPL knowledge. At every assessment you will get questions on ATPL knowledge. Some recruiters will really go in depth, while others only ask some general questions. It is best to be prepared as good as you can. I made my own summaries of the ATPL theory, and used them in my preparation. I would say that the subjects to focus mostly on, are: Principles of Flight, Performance and Meteorology, although in my last assessment there was also some focus on Engines and General Navigation. In my last assessment I had to complete a multiple choice ATPL knowledge test. I will give you a few hints regarding those questions: questions on induced and parasite drag, take off segments, the effect of blocked instruments (pitot and static), and questions on TAS/IAS/MACH. No tricks, it’s all in your ATPL books 😉 Last but not least: invest in the book ‘Ace The Technical Pilot Interview’. Trust me, it’s the study bible of every pilot. 
  • Simulator assessment. My advise: find a way to get regular simulator practice, especially if it has been some time since graduating and your assessment. You want to be current, and have a quick instrument scan. At least invest in one session before your interview, preferably on the type you will be assessed on. The simulator assessment is normally a raw data profile, with a take-off, level off, some maneuvers, speed acceleration and deceleration, several approaches, landings and go-arounds, and usually an engine failure and/or another situation for you to deal with. The airline might send you the flight profile before your assessment, for you to study at home. Study this! Make sure you know the calls, the numbers, the thrust settings for different flight phases. Know them by heart! If you can, practice this specific profile in the simulator. You can practice things like NDB/VOR intercepts outside of the simulator, with an online trainer , or simply with a piece of paper.

  • Personal questions. Expect questions about your personality, and on how you see yourself. Example questions: ‘What would the last few Captains you flew with say about you?’, ‘Why do you want to work for us?’, ‘Why did you choose for aviation?’, ‘Tell us something you would like to improve about yourself?’, ‘What will you do if you don’t get hired?’ Practice the interview with a friend, preferably a friend who is already working as an airline pilot. He or she can play the recruiter, and you will be surprised how difficult it is initially! What you have in mind to say, might sound totally wrong when spoken out loud, or you suddenly block when you get a difficult question. I highly recommend practicing lots of interview questions face to face. Keep in mind that if you state that you are responsible (for example), that you have to back-up this statement with examples that show your responsibility. 
  • Knowledge of the airline and the aviation industry in general. Use the website of the airline you apply to as a study book: find out the airlines history, the development of the fleet, the airplanes on order, the destinations, future plans, etcetera. Recruiters will check your knowledge on the airline you try to get into. Also make sure that you know who are the competitors, and what is happening in the industry. 
What to wear?

You can not ‘overdress’ for a job interview, but you can definitely underdress. You are doing it right if you wear a nicely fitted suit, polished shoes and dark socks (white socks are a no-no). Don’t wear your student pilot uniform; wear a suit. If you have a tattoo, don’t have it visible. I feel like I am stating the obvious here, but I know of someone who showed up at an interview, with a tattoo on the forearm showing. This person could leave before the interview even started. You can have a tattoo as a professional pilot, but you need to cover them at work, so be prepared to wear long sleeved shirts if your tattoo is on your forearm. Same for eyebrow/nose/etc piercings: you would not wear them at work, so neither for your interview. Bring one bag to your interview with all your documents. I recommend a briefcase or a dark coloured handbag; definitely not a backpack. 

What to wear – female candidates?

I often get questions from ladies what they should wear to their pilot interview, and if it would be ok to wear a skirt. For both my interviews I wore a suit. At the first interview I wore a black suit, a white shirt and black high heels. For the simulator session I changed into a pair of flat shoes. At the second interview I wore a checked grey suit, and a dark blue shirt. I changed again from high heels into flats for the simulator session. If high heels give you that bit of extra confidence, go for it! I saw other female candidates, sometimes in high heels and sometimes with flat shoes. It is simply your personal preference. I would recommend to have your hair up if it’s longer than shoulder length, as you would then normally wear it up at work as well. You also can’t go wrong with neutral make-up. To answer the skirt question: I guess you can wear a skirt to the interview if you really want to, but it might be a bit awkward buckling up in the five-point harness for your simulator session…

Tips for the day(s) of your interview
  • Be on time! Most likely you stay overnight in a hotel close to the interview location. So besides setting your iPhone alarm, schedule a wake-up call to your room as a back-up. 
  • Try to be as rested as possible. Enough sleep for such a demanding day is highly essential. When you are tired, your ability to perform goes down. So don’t book that flight to your interview location that lands late at night; build in some time to be optimally rested.
  • You will need to bring a bunch of documents: double check if you have indeed everything printed out, copied etcetera. Bring a pen and notepad, and your original logbook, passport, license and medical.
  • At the face to face interview, the recruiters try to get a full picture of the person in front of them. Is this someone they can train? Is this someone they would like to work with? They form their opinion from the moment you meet, until the last handshake and you closing the door. Try to be yourself, but also make sure that you make an impression: show your passion for the job, get across what makes that they should hire you. It’s better to talk a bit too much, than to be an oyster they have a hard time getting information out of. It’s also totally fine to not know the answer to a question: it’s better to admit that you don’t know something, than to start making something up or pretending that you know. Be honest. 
  • Remember that the recruiters look for trainability in the simulator session. It does not have to be perfect, you probably never flew this type before, and you are nervous. They do want to see progress, and ability to not dwell on a mistake. As one of my sim instructors said ‘your assessment is in front of you, never behind you.’ 

I hope these tips are helpful to guide you in the right direction, and I wish you the best of luck in your preparations! 

 

Aviation

Life as a cargo pilot

‘What is the difference between flying passengers and flying cargo?’ Since I made the move from flying passengers in a Boeing 737-800 in Europe, to flying the Boeing 747-400 and -8 freighter, this is the question I get asked the most on my Instagram. I passed my initial line check on the Boeing 747 in the middle of June this year, which marked the end of the training phase. Since then I had a proper taste of the cargo operations, with a variety of trips and quite a busy schedule. I now experienced a full spring and summer of worldwide cargo flying, based in Hong Kong, so time to compare! 

In my previous job at a low cost passenger airline I had a very stable roster of 5 days on and 4 days off, and no night flights or layovers. The crew consisted of 2 pilots (A Captain and a First Officer) and 4 flight attendants. We brought people to their destination, and we made PA’s about the flight time and weather enroute. We had cases where a passenger required medical assistance, or on occasion we were met after parking by the police when we had informed them of a disruptive passenger on board. My last flight carrying passengers is now 12 months ago. In the belly of the airplane I fly now, you can only find pallets of freight.

A flight like any other

The total crew of the cargo flights usually consists of two pilots: a Captain and a First Officer. On longer flights we are with three or four pilots: besides the standard crew also a Second Officer and/or sometimes another Captain or First Officer. At the start of our duty we meet at dispatch to discuss the flight and paperwork, we pass through crew security and when we arrive at the airplane, the loading process is usually well on its way. We then have a standard pre-flight procedure: one pilot sets up the flight deck for departure and the other pilot does the exterior inspection. When the loading is done and all checks are completed: we close the doors and we can go. If there is an ATC restriction, we simply wait. There is no need to explain the cargo that we will not depart in the next half hour, and how we try to make up the time in flight 😉 The flight is then just like any flight, with or without passengers. 

Coffee or tea?

So what happens if we get hungry or would like a coffee during the flight? We have no flight attendants on board, so nobody will react if we ‘ding’. It might seem obvious, but many of you ask about this: yes, the pilots prepare their own coffee and meals. Just behind the flight deck, we have a galley, containing several catering boxes with plenty of food, drinks and snacks, an oven and a coffee maker. One pilot stays behind the controls in the flight deck, and the other one is free to prepare meals, stretch, use the bathroom, etc. We don’t even have a flight deck door, so we are free to walk to the upper deck during the flight. Of course we always hand over controls and communication to the other pilot when we do so.

So what is then the major difference? The main keywords of my new job: jetlags, night flights and roster changes! Jetlags come with all long haul flights, and long-haul flights are new to me, and they are not specifically cargo related. However flying freight definitely brings in the night flights and an unpredictable roster. This is a major difference from my previous job.  

Flying at night

Most cargo flights are scheduled at night, the passenger flights take those sweet day slots! I would estimate about 20% of my flights are during the day. When we have a day flight we joke about how nice it is to be flying during the day. My routes are a mix of short-, medium- and long-haul routes, and usually one or two-sector trips. When we report for a duty at night, we try to be as rested as possible. A report at midnight requires me to leave my home at 22:30. Knowing I will be working the whole night, I try to sleep beforehand, but it is really not that easy to try and fall asleep in the afternoon, when your body clock tells you it is fully awake.

Bunk in the Boeing 747

We are allowed to sleep during flights. This might sound awesome, but it is important that the pilots are alert and fit for the approach and landing phase. When we fly with only 2 pilots, we are allowed to take controlled rest if we really feel the need to. One pilot then sleeps for a short while in the pilot seat, while the other pilot takes control of the flight and communication. And if we fly with more than 2 pilots we have time to rest in the bunk. We have 2 bunks on board: a small room with a small mattress, cushions and sheets, where the crew can sleep. On long-haul flights (over 10 hours) we get about 3 hours of rest. So far I managed to sleep from the moment I got in the bunk, till being called back to operate, and this is really helpful to be as rested as possible. 

Your flight has been changed

In my new company there is no defined roster pattern; sometimes I work 1 or 2 days followed by some days off, sometimes my trips last for 7 days, and sometimes I am more than 7 days off. My days off are spread out around the month, as are my trips. So there is no standard schedule, I can request certain trips and specific days off though. But it is not unusual to have a planned trip changed to a completely different one. In fact, it is rather standard to have the planned roster completely changed! Within a block of working days, you simply have to accept that anything can happen. You might report for a certain flight, but upon reporting get changed to operate another flight, sometimes requiring you to wait for a few hours for this flights departure.

Or you expect to operate a flight, but it is changed to a positioning flight. A positioning flight is a flight you do for the company as a passenger, to get you to a certain destination from where you will operate, either straight away or after a layover, or sometimes you position after a duty. Positioning flights can be with the company, or booked with another airline. You might anticipate returning home on Tuesday, but when your block of working days finishes Friday, big chance you will get some more flights and will not return earlier than Friday. Due to these roster changes, you also might end up in a completely different part of the world. So in my suitcase I pack all kind of electric adapters, and even if I go to a subtropical destination, I still pack jeans and a jacket. I learned this the hard way by ending up in Alaska, while having packed for my trip to high summer Colombo. 

Challenging

So how to deal with the night flights, the jet lags, and the unstable roster? I really don’t mind to have my roster changed regularly, but the crossing of time zones is something to get used to. One of our most common destinations has an 18 hour time difference with Hong Kong, so this is hard on your body clock. To work through the night, or ‘the backside of the body clock’, then try to sleep when your body clock says you should be wide awake, and then report again for duty: not easy! I knew it would be challenging, but it is a bigger challenge than I expected, especially the combination of the night flights and the crossing of many time zones, also within one working trip. I try to find a way to best deal with the long-haul lifestyle: to manage my sleep, do sports regularly and be active and outside a lot. For now I think it does not affect me that much, as I am only just getting exposed to this lifestyle. The future will tell how well I will handle it on the long run, but I might need stronger filters on Instagram 😉 

Happy in Hong Kong

This job required me to move to Hong Kong, and this step actually turned out better than expected. I was enthusiastic about it, but it required leaving the wonderful city of Barcelona, my previous base, behind. But both me and my boyfriend are very happy living here, and during my days off we are constantly exploring more of Hong Kong and its surroundings. As my partner is freelancing, we manage to spend a lot of time together when I am not on a trip, and it feels like one big adventure together.

Regarding my new job I also really enjoy having layovers, to see new places and try new food. Some of the layover highlights so far, were seeing the statue of liberty in New York, taking a motor trip in Alaska, watching float planes in Anchorage while enjoying a bison burger. And talking about food: all the sushi consumed in Japan. But I have to be honest regarding the layovers: a large part of them have been really short, so then the main focus is to rest before the next flight. As fun and #instatravel as all the destinations may seem, sometimes you see not a lot more than the hotel. I get plenty weeks of leave though to enjoy traveling. 

Love for the 747

I really enjoy the newness of everything. The moment the roster comes out, I am excited to see the new destinations I can expect next month. I learn from the different aspects of long haul flying with the new procedures and experiences. I enjoy the camaraderie amongst the team of cargo pilots. The atmosphere is relaxed and I feel right at home on the fleet. As one of my colleagues captured the feeling for the Jumbo: ‘She’s the love of our flying lives.’ And there is only truth in that: we all have a special bond with the airplane we fly. I feel incredibly blessed to be flying the Boeing 747, every flight again. When you finish a flight, walk down the stairs, and look back at this incredible queen, who you just flew and taxied and parked, there is always this feeling: a mix of love and pride and awe. All in all I am really happy about the step I made and I look forward to flying during winter season.

In this blog I focussed mainly on the differences in lifestyle and roster. As I also get many questions regarding for example the loading procedure of cargo, the kind of cargo we carry, and the limitations of the 747 freighter, I will publish another article soon regarding these aspects. Stay tuned on my blog for more regarding the Boeing 747, the cargo operation and other aviation related articles 🙂 



Extra: answers to Frequently Asked Questions on flying cargo. 

Q ‘Do you do special manoeuvres since you don’t have passengers on board?’

A No, we are not doing Boeing 747 aerobatics… Absolutely the same flying as flying with passengers, no ‘tighter/more uncomfortable manoeuvres’, and yes we also avoid those storm clouds!

Q ‘Do you require any special training to fly cargo?’

A No, same training for all pilots. Did you know most passenger flights also carry freight on board? Dangerous goods is part of any airline pilot training. On cargo airplanes we do carry CAO (Cargo Aircraft Only) goods, but we learn about this as a part of the Dangerous Goods training, which is a standard training for all airline pilots.

Q ‘Don’t you miss flying passengers? Does flying cargo bring you less satisfaction?’

A I love flying cargo, but one thing I do miss about passenger flying is meeting the kids, who came into the flight deck to have a peek at the pilots office before or after the flight. Other than that, I enjoy flying freight!

Q ‘Is becoming a cargo pilot easier and cheaper than becoming a passenger pilot?’

A It seems a lot of people think that a cargo pilot and a passenger pilot are different kind of pilots? This is not the case. The airline I fly for used to have a mix of 747 pax and freighters, and the 747 rated pilots flew both types. All pilots have the same rating. Also a lot of you seem to think that there are differences in salary between pilots who operate passengers or cargo flights? No, there is the same pay. Or that you have to earn a minimum amount of hours flying cargo before flying passengers, or additional training? Not true. Any cargo pilot would be allowed to fly passengers and the other way around: it does not matter what is in the airplane, freight or passengers. After all: we have a 747 rating, not a 747 freighter rating 🙂

Q ‘Is it stressful waiting for all the cargo to be loaded? Are there a lot of delays?’

A Absolutely no stress regarding cargo loading. Great loading teams take care of the loading and unloading of cargo at all stations, the pilots don’t get involved much in this (this is for a later blog). When we start the flight, usually the loading is almost finished. And a cargo turnaround of normally about 2 hours is scheduled for unloading and reloading: this is realistic scheduling. In this period we prepare the next flight and relax 🙂

Q ‘How did you get your job working in the cargo section of an airline?’

A I wrote about this! See this article: Next chapter: Boeing 747, the queen of the skies

Q ‘Why did you prefer cargo and not commercial aviation? What should I choose, cargo or commercial?’

A Commercial aviation = cargo flights and passenger flights. With your pilot license, you will always be ok to fly both passengers and cargo. No choices to be made here. But if you mean to choose between flying passengers or cargo: well try to find some answers for yourself. Is it important for you what you fly? Why? Are you flexible to not care about a changing roster that much? I experienced both passenger and cargo flying, and I really enjoy both! But I always had the idea to try cargo flying. I used to work in operations at a cargo airline (Martinair), and the cargo pilots I met there were the type of people I wanted to work with. The good thing is it is not a definite choice to make: you can just as easy switch from a job flying passengers, to a job where you fly cargo, and the other way around. 

Q ‘Do you have wifi on board? Can you read in flight?’

A We do not have wifi on board. Yes in cruise when the conditions allow for it you can read, talk, eat, and drink lots of coffee.

Q ‘Do passenger flights get priority in takeoff/landing slots over cargo flights by ATC?’

A No.

Q ‘Do you sometimes make a PA and then realise you were confused, as you are not flying passengers?’

A No we are well aware we fly cargo and we don’t make PA’s to our pallets of freight. However, when we have crew in the upper deck on a flight, such as ground engineers, or positioning crew (non-operating crew traveling for the company), we do make short PA’s to advise on take-off and landing. 

Q ‘Do cargo pilots also have to go through security? Normal passenger security?’

A Yes, we go through security: we pass through crew/staff channels, like all air crew.

Q ‘Do you only ever fly Hong Kong to Anchorage?’

A In my company Anchorage is always the first and last stop of a pattern through the USA or to Mexico, and it is a major cargo destination, so yes I will fly there regularly. But it is not the only destination, although we joke it is our second home 😉 So far I flew with the 747, besides to Hong Kong and Anchorage, to New York, Dallas, Atlanta, Narita, Osaka, Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore, Dhaka, Colombo, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Penang, Taipei, and Shanghai. There are still a lot of destinations in the network I did not get rostered for yet.

Aviation

A dream comes true: flying the jumbo jet

So this is the moment. You have your few years Boeing 737 experience, and you logged some hours of Boeing 747 simulator training. But today you get to actually fly this icon, this legend.

When I walk into dispatch at this early morning hour, to the table with all the paperwork for my first flight, there are so many thoughts and emotions in my head. Flashes of previous 737 experience, flight training, moving all over the planet, Phoenix, Girona, Rome, Barcelona, Hong Kong, manuals, operating procedures and limitations. I see my name on the crew list, I sign in and read the flight plan, notams and weather. I try to push all the chaos in my head aside and focus on the task at hand: a base training flight in the Boeing 747! 

I wrote earlier that becoming a pilot was never my childhood dream. I was well into my twenties when I made the switch to aviation. However, I do have some clear childhood memories, regarding the Boeing 747. I grew up close to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. I remember driving past the airport, little me in the back seat, and how my eyes would widen as I spotted these majestic planes parked up next to the highway. I tried to imagine what kind of persons would fly in the jumbo. It was clear to me that the pilots of these planes were super special, and that they did something extraordinary. Flying the 747 was only for the very lucky and extremely talented few, is what I concluded as a child. Now I know jumbo pilots are just as talented as any other aviator, but it is safe to say that some of this childish admiration for the 747 is definitely still within me. I feel so very lucky. 

Meeting the crew

‘Good morning Captain.’ At dispatch we meet the Base Training Captain, and a safety pilot, who will observe and assist on the jump seat. The flight today is a special training flight, without delivering any cargo. My training partner and myself have to make some landings and visual circuits, and we are cleared to do so at Clark Airport in the Philippines. ‘Who gets to fly first, did you guys decide yet?’ As my training partner is a gentleman, he gives me the choice. Obviously then, the first take-off in the Boeing 747 will be done by me, and not watching on the observation seat, so I say: ‘I will fly it up to Clark.’ We will later quickly change seats during the circuit training. After all preparations are done, we go out to pass security, and a bus takes us to the cargo apron of Hong Kong airport.

There she is. I have never been a passenger on the 747 and I was never close to one. Time to walk up the stairs and set her up for departure. I peek quickly at the empty belly, as I climb further up to the flight deck. I train on both the Boeing 747-8 and the Boeing 747-400ERF. Today’s training will be done on an ERF. The ground preparation needs to be done, and my head is still so full. I am simply too excited for what is ahead. I am behind the controls of the Boeing 747. I never imagined this would happen. Now is the time to be professional, and not the time to try and figure out how I got here, or why this means so much to me. I better believe it, and perform well today. Fast forward to push back complete and all four engines running: I need to taxi this beast to the holding point! First time taxiing a jet, another tick in the box today. How small do all the other planes look from where I am seated (almost 10 meters up), even my beloved 737 loses all its grandeur from here. 

Cleared for takeoff! 

‘Set thrust.’ There we go, rattling on runway 07R. We are very light without cargo, so in no time we reach the speed to rotate off the runway. It feels good to be back in the sky, and to be part of this whole world that makes aviation: ATC, engineers, dispatch, ground handling, all of it. I genuinely missed it. When a profession is more than a job, you made the right choice. I remember a moment on the 737: it was an extremely long 4-sector day with lots of delays, issues and returning from our last flight hours too late. Back at the gate I waved to the dispatcher, and opened my flight deck window to communicate the On Blocks Time to him. He laughed, shook his head and yelled: ‘Eva, I knew it was you! Only you would return from such a day and still have the happiest smile.’ I had not realised I had such a reputation, and it made me smile even more. Back to today: after a short flight over the South China Sea, we reach the Philippine coastline.

Cleared to land!

Descent briefing, approach briefing, and down we go. We are approaching Clark airport. The volcano on downwind, mount Arayat, is already visible. We come from the northwest, and fly over the airport before joining the righthand circuit of runway 02. The first approach I fly in via the ILS. It’s a hot and thermal day at the airport, firm updrafts on final, something you simply cannot simulate in the simulator. First landing is ‘good!’ Quickly take off thrust, and back in the air we go, flight directors off, and time for some visual circuits. Second landing, the flare would have been perfect for a 737, this means not enough for a jumbo! Ok, flare more, flare earlier. Next landings and circuits are good again, and so, an intense 20 minutes later, we extend upwind and I have to get out of my seat. My training partner gets to fly his circuits and fly back to Hong Kong, as I watch from the observation seat. 


On the observation seat the adrenaline slowly starts to come down, and I feel so happy. I accomplished another step in my ever so short aviation career. This is also what I enjoy so much about this profession: you can always keep striving to be better, and there is no limit in how far you want to go in your career. There is always a next step; the step to learn to fly a new type, to become an experienced First Officer, Captain, trainer or examiner. You will have regular checks your whole career, your performance is always monitored, by your colleagues and the company, but mostly by yourself! I feel I am now in the perfect place to develop myself further. I fly with very experienced captains, with such various backgrounds, from bush flying to military, and decades of wide-body experience. I am certain every day I will learn tons from them, and with a positive mindset as always I now start the 747 training flights. 

Line training

As I write this I had my first line training sectors, and I enjoy it tremendously. I keep comparing my days at my previous low cost passenger airline, and my first steps as a freighter pilot for a flag carrier. I always dreamed of long haul flying, and now I have layovers in Malaysia, India, Japan, Vietnam and London coming up, and that’s only the beginning! Most readers know I use my Instagram almost as a personal diary, and it’s great so many of you enjoy ‘tagging along’ a bit with my progress and adventures. I will also continue writing here, about the cargo operations and many other things, but my next article will be when I have completed the full training. Some hard work ahead, so many new experiences ahead: taking it one flight at a time.

Aviation

Boeing 747 Type Rating in Hong Kong

On the first day of Christmas I fly from Amsterdam to Hong Kong. I am flying to a new adventure, a new home, and a new job. My last flight on the Boeing 737 is already two months behind me now. I remember the emotions during the last approach into Barcelona airport. So many times I flew the ILS to runway 25R, with the beautiful skyline of Barcelona on the righthand side. Now is my last approach and final landing with a cabin full of passengers. Turning off the engines seemed to symbolize closing a whole chapter. ‘Goodbye, thank you for flying with us. Adios, gracias.’ It did made me feel melancholic, despite the excitement of the new job. Now I’m off to ‘the dark side’ of freight. To join the worldwide Boeing 747 cargo operations is something I have been much anticipating. Now the moment has arrived: let the training begin!

For the conversion course I am teamed up with a Dutch guy who previously flew the Boeing 787 in the Middle East. He is just as excited as I am to now join the Boeing 747 fleet. It turns out we get along very well and make a good team training together. We tackle the first hurdle the next day: despite a proper jet lag we pass the Performance and Air Law ATPL exams. This is a requirement to get a Hong Kong license later. Both of us are not sure what the ‘747 conversion course’ will look like, as we will not get a full type rating but a condensed program. But we are soon to find out on the company introduction day.

The fire hose

In my previous airline I never got to see the head office or any of the operational departments. But the new airline has all of its departments, including the simulators and management, at one location. During the introduction we get an overload of information. We shake countless hands, and visit many floors and office buildings. In the weeks to come I will find myself many times on the wrong floor, or if I am on the right floor, then at least in the wrong building. There is a whole lot to fill in, to arrange, to register, to prepare, to obtain, to email, scan, copy, sign and choose. We sit through many briefings and presentations, take notes, and make appointments. We receive our schedule for the first two weeks of training. It’s packed. ‘Welcome to the company. This will be like nothing you have experienced before. We will put the fire hose straight at you for these coming weeks. You will have to hit the ground running. Work very hard guys.’

During another briefing, we get similar guidance from the instructing captain: ‘We put the fire hose at your mouth.’ (Are they all volunteer firefighters in their free time..?) ‘It is up to you to drink or drown.’ The instructor looks at me and says: ‘You seem so enthusiastic the whole time. There is nothing to be excited about. In a few weeks you will look like a white ghost, wondering what you got yourself into. This is very hard, and not fun.’ With training yet to start, I do feel a bit nervous now. Especially when I hear that several people have failed the course recently, including people that ‘just could not handle the 747.’

Ground School

The 747 ground school consists of lots of CBT (Computer Based Training), classroom briefings with an engineer, and practicing systems and procedures on an IPT trainer (basically a Boeing 747-8 flight deck made from touch screens). The class consists of just me and my training partner. The technical exam is scheduled only 10 days after the start of ground school. So after the long ground school days I study all evening, every evening, cramping limitations and system facts into my head. We are lucky that we both flew Boeing before, this makes all systems familiar. The Boeing 747-8 has a lot of great (to me) new features, such as autostart, autotuning of navigation aids, and automatic anti-ice: a lot of things that make a pilot’s life easier. There are also new systems and procedures I did not work with before: ACARS, fuel jettisoning, cargo temperature control, electronic checklists, Cat 3B and IAN approaches amongst many other things.

The ground school is intense, mostly because it is set up so short, and exam day is coming closer. It is a closed book technical exam of 100 questions, on all of the Boeing 747 systems. The trainer was right about one thing: within no time my skin looks bad, I have bags under my eyes, but I enjoy it and know exactly why I am here. I study the best I can, going through the manuals till late, making notes, drawing systems, and trying to become a 747 expert in just 10 days. It seems to work out: we pass and the reward comes the next day with a ‘handling session’ in the Boeing 747-8 simulator. It is a 4 hour raw data sim session, designed to make you feel comfortable handling the 747, from normal to (very) unusual attitudes. How do you recover when you soar down with the nose 20 degrees below the horizon, or when you are pitched up to almost vertical flight and stall? Our trainer, a former military and aerobatics pilot, teaches us. Who said this was not fun…?

Simulator phase

The next of the simulator sessions are more ‘serious’. The program consists, besides training in the IPT trainer, of 9 4-hour sessions: 4 normal sessions, 4 non-normal sessions and 1 low visibility session, all conducted in the Boeing 747-8F full flight simulator. We now really have to learn the new company procedures, and unlearn all our old procedures. The program is very doable with our previous Boeing experience, and we make an effort to forget and replace our ‘previous life’ procedures and callouts. I learn to taxi for the first time as well: I now have a tiller on my side to steer for taxiing (did not have that on the Boeing 737!) After making my instructor and training partner very nauseous during my first taxi attempt, I get the hang of it. Every session we tick off training elements, from basics like steep turns and approach to stall recovery, TCAS RA, to engine failures, fires, evacuations, crosswind landings. We also train loss of pressurization, and a volcanic ash encounter, which in the end makes that we lose all four engines for some time. I really enjoy the simulator phase a lot. The new flight deck feels comfortable very fast, and you get used to the handling differences quickly. It’s not so different from one Boeing to another Boeing, and the simulator phase is definitely enjoyable.

However, the last training session we have to handle ‘two engines inoperative’, this means to make an approach with only 2 engines (on the same wing) running. This is hard work, especially at maximum landing weight (346.090 kg). I struggle to fly a nice approach, coordinating my rudder and thrust. I am not pleased with my performance. Unfortunately this is the only practice I get: next up are the exams, in which I have to demonstrate the approach on two engines again. I cannot hide my frustration well, in my head I hear a voice telling me that I might be one of those who ‘just could not handle the 747’. The instructor is a nice but very strict trainer who really got us up to the right standard. ‘I told you guys it’s normal when we see a dip halfway through training. You did not have one, till today.’ He tells me I’m ready, and I’ll be fine.

Type rated on the Boeing 747

In exactly one month we have completed the simulator training phase, and now we are up for a full weekend of simulator exams during the Chinese New Year weekend. Day 1 is the skill test, and day 2 the Instrument Rating exam. During the skill test my training partner goes first as pilot flying, and he does a flawless job. ‘Well, if you do the same, that will be very nice!’ I am next, and I repeat all the different exercises. All goes well, but the last exercise is the ‘dreaded’ two engines inoperative approach. But I feel highly focused, and now I nail the approach. Lights on, motion off, exam done!

The next day we have the Instrument Rating exam. I don’t feel so nervous anymore after yesterday. Just kidding, of course I am nervous! The IR is the last step in the Type Rating process, it contains the standard elements like a rejected take-off in low visibility, engine failure during take-off (V1 cut), a non-precision approach, go-arounds etc. I am first up as pilot flying, and both me and my training partner fly a very good check. This concludes the type rating! It went so fast!

What’s next?

After the exams we did a quick 2-day differences course for the Boeing 747-400 ERF. Up next are several simulator sessions to prepare us for ‘base training’ and then the actual base training. We will take an empty Boeing 747 with us (most probably to Clark airport) to practice 3 landings each. Can you imagine doing touch-and-go’s in a Boeing 747?! It is a mandatory requirement by the Hong Kong aviation department. Soon after that I will have an observation flight and then start line training flights. This means finally joining the 747 cargo operations. March promises to be an exciting month. So stay tuned for more, on flying the Boeing 747 and also on life in Hong Kong, and thank you for all your amazing support!

Aviation

Next chapter: Boeing 747, the queen of the skies

‘Hard work makes dreams come true.’ Some of you, who follow me on Instagram, know about a big career change coming up for me. I promised to share the story of changing from flying passengers on the Boeing 737 through Europe, to my future pilot job, flying cargo on the Boeing 747 all over the world. I am changing airline, and changing base: this winter I will leave Barcelona and move to Hong Kong. This is a long blogpost, but so many people have been following my journey for many months or even years, and seem as excited for me as I am for this change. I hope you enjoy some background information on my upcoming career step.

Gaining flight experience to join a respected stable airline to operate long-haul flights, has been my dream since finally getting my break in aviation. In the aviation market of the last few years, it seemed like too big of a dream. KLM, Lufthansa, BA? There were barely any vacancies. It was not an ‘urgent’ dream: I had a secure job at a big low-cost airline, I was flying over 800 hours every year, I was happy where I was based, and I was on track to become a captain in my airline quickly, also a major career step.

August 2016. But when a vacancy comes out for direct entry first officers on the Boeing 747 and Airbus 330, based in Hong Kong, at an airline with a great reputation, I do not hesitate. I get in touch with some of my former flightschool mates, who are flying several years for this airline, to get a clear idea of life at this airline and in Hong Kong. It seems like the perfect next step for me. I then use an entire weekend updating my flight hours, polishing my CV, and writing the two short essays which are requested with the application. I send my online application, receive an acknowledgement, and that is it.

No news

Eight months pass without hearing anything about my application. In these months I am preparing for the captain upgrade in my airline. I decide to fly one more winter as a first officer, and start the upgrade somewhere at the end of spring: I set my goal on June 2017 to become a Boeing 737 captain.

April 2017. Eight months since my application, I suddenly get an e-mail from the airline in Hong Kong. The flight recruitment team asks me to fill out several forms. I have to read the e-mail three times, before I realise it means that an assessment opportunity will come up for me. I start to imagine my life at this airline, and to move to Asia. I visualise myself flying Boeing 747 for them, it still seems like a surreal unreachable dream.

May 2017. Not much later I get my final interview dates; in July I have to fly to Hong Kong, for two full days of assessments. I am beyond excitement. I feel that if I now give it everything, my life could soon go in a whole new direction. I put the captain upgrade on hold. All my free time I am now studying for the assessments. I know the reputation of their recruitment: a lot of preparation is needed. I study all ATPL subjects, focussing on Meteorology, Principles of Flight, General Navigation and Performance. I also study the airline’s history, the fleet, their network, and besides that the history of Hong Kong.

Simulator training

Not only my motivation and theoretical knowledge will be tested at the assessments, also my flight skills, flying a raw data profile on a Boeing 747 simulator. To prepare for that I book a Boeing 747 simulator and an instructor for 2 hours, at the Lufthansa training Centre in Frankfurt. This costs me a half month salary, but during the short grading I will only have one chance. In this training I am shooting raw data approaches and dealing with engine failures in the middle of the night, as I have a ‘night slot’ on the simulator. It is my first time training in a Boeing 747. I am somewhat nervous, it feels as the ‘final rehearsal’ for my assessment. I am lucky to have a great German instructor, who finetunes my flying in the 2 hours. Afterwards he says he is sure I will pass at least the simulator grading if I will show them something similar in Hong Kong. This kind of confidence boost is priceless to me. To book the simulator is the best decision I could have made in my preparations.

Now we have only one week to go till the assessments. I feel both tired and energetic at the same time from enthusiasm and the non-stop preparations. My social life has been put on hold these last two months, all those nice Barcelona beach days, nights out, not for me. I Skype several hours with a friend; a pilot and professional coach, who also helped me prepare for my previous airline assessment. We practice the final interview, and we find some points where I can improve in how I present myself. A lot of paperwork has to be prepared before the assessments, and I check a dozen times if all files and copies are correct.

Hong Kong

July 2017. I fly to Hong Kong from Barcelona with the airlines A350. It is my first time flying with this airline as a passenger, and a great experience for me. In Hong Kong I meet my Dutch friend Marike, whom I actually met through Instagram! She is a very successful pastry chef, living in Hong Kong for many years. For me it is my first time in this city, possibly my future home. Marike invited me to stay at her apartment, and in several days she shows me Hong Kong Island, the beach, different areas, restaurants and the nightlife. We also go for dinner with one of her best friends, who happens to be a captain at the airline I am applying. A great opportunity to learn again more about the life as a pilot for this airline. I am so grateful for Marikes hospitality and friendship. When the weekend is over it is time to move to the airport hotel, booked for me by the airline. It is time for the assessments.

The assessments

The first assessment day, I am beyond nervous when I wake up. A bus takes me to the interview location. The assessments take two full days. In order to go to the final interview you have to pass the first day. I meet 3 other candidates for the Direct Entry first officer position. We start off with paperwork, and then a group exercise. The next round is a theory exam, 50 questions to be answered in 60 minutes, without a calculator and a passmark of 70%. It is more difficult than I expected. But I have no time to moan or reflect on how good or bad I performed in the exam, as immediately I have to go into the 747 simulator. The instructors are great, but my nerves predominate. I fly not as good as during my training earlier that month. Before I know it also this part is done, and I have to return to the hotel and wait. In the evening they will send me an e-mail, stating that either I passed and can go to the assessments of the next day, or that it all ends here for me. It is now 15:00 and I can expect the e-mail between 17:00 and 18:00. What to do? I start to look up several questions from the theory exam. When I find a question that I had answered right, but last minuted changed to a wrong answer, I feel so devastated. My dreamjob is so close, but I feel it slipping away. I go to the hotel gym and try to stop my mind from driving me mad, and pass the time with a work-out and loud music in my ears. From 17:00 onwards I refresh, refresh, and refresh again my mail. 17:28, an e-mail pops up: ‘Final interview day 2 invitation letter.’ It turns out I passed and got through to the very last round. I cannot describe how happy and relieved I feel, it goes beyond words.

A330 or B747

The next day it turns out 2 of the 4 candidates from yesterday did not get a positive answer last night. A busy programme for today, with a company briefing, medical exam, English language assessment, personality test and then the big final interview. In 1,5 hour I have to present myself, who I am, why I want to join the airline, tell about situations I have been in when flying for my current airline. They conclude with a lot of technical questions, in which all the preparation turns out to have not been in vain. They ask me if I prefer to fly the A330 or B747, they can assign me to either of the fleets if I pass. I explain my preference for the B747: I know that the roster of the A330 has a better reputation, but I think the transition from Boeing to Boeing, B737 to B747, will be smoother as to the Airbus. Especially as they tell me the training will be intense and very short. Besides that, I really long to fly worldwide, and not initially regional Asia only, ánd I love that I will fly cargo on the 747. I used to work for Martinair in operations, I planned the routes as a dispatcher, and after joining the cargo pilots for a week as a supernummary on the MD11, it sparked hope that one day I would also fly cargo. There is a family kind of atmosphere amongst the cargo pilots, it existed in Martinair, and according the 747 pilots I spoke to, it also exists in this airline. It is a special kind of operation, with a lot of night flights and a lot of last minute changes, as the schedule is less stable than passenger schedules. To top it off: it is an iconic airplane, that will not exist for too long anymore. It feels safe to join the B747 fleet in this airline, for if they change the fleet, the pilots can join on another fleet.

I feel very happy after the interview. They don’t reveal if I have the job or not, I will have to await an e-mail within the next 2 weeks. But my gut feeling says now that I don’t have to worry. I meet with my friend Marike again, she has made me a Michelin star-worthy cake, we enjoy it on her roof terrace in central Hong Kong and then we celebrate the end of the assessments in the nightlife of Hong Kong. The next day we hike up to The Peak of Hong Kong Island, and I feel on top of the world. I love this small buzzing metropole, surrounded by nature, hiking trails and beautiful islands. I see myself living here, I feel with all my heart that this has to be the next step in my career and in my life. That evening I board the A350 to return to Barcelona. Will I be back, and if so, when? And will I then train B747 or A330? A weight is lifted off my shoulders, now that the assessments are done. I reflect on the last few months. A lot of hard work has been put into the preparations.

Important e-mail

August 2017. It is one week after the assessment. Today I am scheduled to operate as a safety pilot, which means I am on the jumpseat observing, while a brand new first officer gets training from the captain. We operate a long flight, almost 4 hours. When we arrive at our destination at the stand I switch on my phone and check my e-mail. There it is, the e-mail offering me the much desired job, starting in December, and on my preferred Boeing 747. Crying I call my boyfriend (joining the adventure in Hong Kong!) and my parents in the turnaround, out of sight from the passengers. In the next days I call a whole lot of other people, receive the contract and resign from my current airline.

As I am writing this I am preparing the big move to Hong Kong. I only have 6 more weeks flying the Boeing 737 from Barcelona, and then some time off. A lot needs to be done: pack, sell things, drive to Holland, sell my car, loads of administration, and also prepare for several exams that I have to make upon arriving in Hong Kong. Above all I try to enjoy all the time that I have ‘left’ living in Europe, making trips and plans and enjoying the city of Barcelona. It is with the biggest excitement that I start this adventure. I know it will take a lot of hard work and studying more to make my dream come true, but it will happen!

Aviation

Bush flying in South Africa

It is extremely hot, we have been flying for 1,5 hours. I already made five touch and go’s, at five different airfields. I just came from Rooiberg, a private grass strip. It has power lines at the end of the runway, over which the aircraft could only barely climb in the current density altitude. Rundu Bundu, the next field, gets visible. I descent to 200ft AGL to make a runway inspection. Out loud: ‘The approach is free of obstacles, it’s a gravel strip, I don’t see any potholes, just some giraffes on the runway… ehr what?!’ I continue the low pass, descent a bit lower, but the giraffes don’t move an inch. They just stare at the brightly coloured Cessna 172 that approaches them. This is Africa!

Curiosity regarding bush flying, vague plans to travel to Africa as a low-timer, and hunger for new skills and flight experience outside of Dutch airspace got me in South Africa. I am ready for a week full of adventure at Sky Africa. Sky Africa is situated at Brakpan airport (FABB) since 1981, at half an hour drive east of Johannesburg International Airport. The team is specialized in bush pilot training courses. It is also possible to build some flight hours, affordable and in a fantastic environment. Frequently pilots from Lufthansa, TAP and Qantas come to Brakpan during their layover, to rent an airplane and make a nice bush trip.

Sky Africa Cessna 172

Back to basics

The first two days of the course consist of the ‘foreign license validation.’ I meet my instructor Glen, an ex-airforce pilot with thousands of hours of experience flying at the South African bush. The program starts with several briefings: the rules of the Johannesburg TMA, high altitude operations and precautionary landings. When Glen concludes that my theoretical knowledge is sufficient, I am allowed to start preparing my first flight in the African airspace. It is back to basics: no GPS, no assistance of VOR radials or other navaids, but purely the map, pilotage and dead reckoning. With the map spread out on the table I juggle with my calculating disc and plot the route. We will fly for 2,5 hours and visit several landing strips. I force myself to remember all landmarks for my cross country check tomorrow, where I also have to make a diversion.

Racetrack or runway?

Upon arriving at the airfield the next morning, I understand the presence of several dixi-toilets right next to the Brakpan runway: it is time for the monthly car-race. When there is air traffic, the race gets temporarily suspended. Peculiar, but for the flying club it is a good source of income. In the clubhouse I take the mandatory Air Law exam, and prepare for the check flight. Unfortunately the wind picks up, and is out of limits to use runway 18-36. However, there is also a grass strip at Brakpan, direction 03-21, that has not been used for ages. In fact this strip is not even included in Brakpans Airfield Information. Is it an option to use the strip? I jump into an open truck with my examinator, and we drive over the grass strip to inspect it. The grass is of medium length, and there are not too many humps and potholes. Runway 21 it is, let’s go!

Examination flight

This illustrates the mentality of the pilots at Sky Africa. The grass strip is very short, the only way to take-off is by early rotation, taking flaps, and building speed in ground effect. So there we go. Next to the normal parts of a CPL check, I also have to show a spin and spiral dive recovery, and pass for ‘low flying’. I have to fly at less than 50ft AGL, soaring over the fields with a high power setting and the nose trimmed up. Love it, where else would this have been possible?! I am satisfied, and so is the examinator. There are no rules ‘from throttle to bottle’, so when we return at Brakpan he pours me a nice glass of ‘Suid-Afrikaanse’ wine. I can now operate as PIC on any South African registered single-engine piston.

 

Giraffes during a runway inspection

 

Wild animals

Now the adventure truly takes off. My instructor knows the nicest landing strips, with the most wonderful names: Klipriver, Zebra, Driefontein, Bierman Estate… every few minutes I make a touch and go at a new strip, always preceded by an accurate runway inspection. It is important to notice obstacles in the climb direction, at the end of the runway. This is of more importance than I initially realized: because of the heat and the high elevation there is hardly any climb performance. On full power we hardly exceed a 200 ft per minute climb rate. I practice several techniques: short-field take-offs and landings, different slopes, softfield- and crosswindlandings. It is an intensive way of flying, and I can quickly log 50 landings. I experience a lot of fun and freedom while flying, and increase my self-confidence. Here you learn to fully control your airplane, to learn its limits and work with them.

Kunkuru

Specific skills

The last night of the course we land at Kunkuru; a beautiful lodge in the middle of the bush. We will stay for the night. Approaching Kunkuru we announce our arrival. The rangers assure that the runway is free of wild animals. This is no luxury: earlier that day I almost filetted a springbuck with my propeller. Despite an extensive runway inspection, the springbuck jumped onto the strip immediately after my touch and go, while I was climbing out. In this way the course teaches me the specific skills required for bush flying. I also learn several facts about survival, wildlife, and technical maintenance; every bush pilot should for instance be able to change a V-belt, in case he gets stranded somewhere.

The week passes by so fast. The moment arrives of my last full stop landing at Brakpan. Through my headset I hear Glens voice: ‘Now that was beautiful darling.’ And that is exactly my thought: what an amazing experience!

Bush pilot course information: 

My bush flying course took place at Sky Africa. They offer standard programs on a C-150, C-172 C-182 or a Piper Cherokee. In consultation you can also create your own program, to your personal needs and budget. I chose for more flight hours, and a less luxurious stay. Besides Sky Africa there are many other schools and flying clubs that offer bush pilot courses.

A foreign license validation maintains valid for 60 months, or until your own license expires. The validation consists of a written Air Law exam, a general flight check with an instructor, and a cross country navigation flight with an examinor. This check is approximately equal to a CPL exam. If you are not completely current, it is recommended to have a check-out flight first. Finally you can shorten the time for paperwork, by sending all documents in advance. That way your license will be ready when you arrive in Africa.

Feel inspired?

Earlier I wrote and published this article in Dutch, it was printed in a Dutch aviation magazine. The article inspired some pilots (low-timers and airline captains) to contact me. Some decided to take a bush flying course themselves! I figured that it would be worth translating my article, and to publish it on my website. Perhaps, more people get inspired to have a bush pilot experience. If you do, please let me know? Finally I would like to share this Youtube video, which completely inspired ME back in 2012 to research about bush flying and take the course 🙂 :

Aviation

Flight deck dynamics: captain Marek

The flight deck is a special office, and a very small one: just over two square meters. In this little closed space pilots can spend hours together. Is there an intimate atmosphere? There can be. Normally it’s just the two of us in the front. ‘What do you guys talk about all the time?’ cabin crew often wonders. They assume it’s kind of boring, only one other person to talk to, while they are in a cabin full of people. Every day in the flight deck is different. Some days are filled with smalltalk, silly jokes, and there are days with deeper, more personal conversations.

 

During several phases of flight pilots keep a ‘sterile flight deck’: we keep all communication to a minimum and relevant to the operation only. But during cruise flight there is time to talk, and on a long flight there is actually a lot of time to talk. When you are stuck together for hours, you can get to know the other person very well. Where I want to go with this story, is a day that I will never forget. It is a day I work together with a captain from Eastern Europe, let’s call him Marek.

I meet Marek in the crew room. We are scheduled to fly four sectors together today, and it is the first time that I meet him. He is based elsewhere in Europe, and works in my base for only a week. It is very likely that we will only fly together today, and that after the job is done we will never meet again. We introduce ourselves, prepare the flight paperwork, and together with the cabin crew we proceed to our aircraft to get ready for the first flight.

In cruise flight Marek clearly feels like talking. Some of my colleagues are more quiet and reserved, but this man is really out to get to know me. He is almost 60 years old, with plenty of flight hours and stories under his belt. Usually the journalist in me, eager to learn about a person, comes out. But Marek steers the conversation to revolve around me. So I tell him my story. I tell him about my flight experience, my time at University, my switch from journalism to aviation, my struggles to get a job, about my career plans, and about my family. ‘Are your parents proud?’ ‘Yes, oh yes they are.’ I tell him how I feel about living abroad, being an expat, about my passion for mountains and traveling. He wants to know all, and I feel comfortable telling him all.

With some colleagues you simply connect. Today is such a day. On this long day flying together there is a special atmosphere. Work goes smoothly. We have an excellent connection as professional colleagues, but also from person to person. Marek asks about my dreams for the future. He listens and comments, and sends out signals that he is somewhat proud of the young woman that he got to know.

‘I don’t know if I should tell you this’

Together we operate four flights, and now we are at the last flight of the day. We land, vacate the runway, and taxi to our stand. We shut down the engines, and perform the final checklists. It has been a long day. Before I leave the flight deck, captain Marek tells me that he had a good time working with me: ‘It has been a lifetime since I flew with a girl. It was such a great day for me.’ I smile. Then he gets more serious. ‘To be honest Eva, I will never forget this day.’ He pauses. ‘I don’t know if I should tell you this. My daughter… I had a daughter. She would have had exactly your age now. And all day I was wondering if she would have been anything like you?’

I look at him, and see the dynamics between us today in a whole new light. This hits right into my heart. But through his behaviour I notice that, despite the questions all day long, now is not a moment for questions. Marek instructs me to leave the airplane and take our paperwork with me to the crew room. Later, in front of the terminal building, we say goodbye and go our separate ways.

I am deeply touched. Never will I forget this day.

Aviation

Do passengers react differently to a female pilot?

To work in the flight deck, means to work in a male dominant environment. Over the last few years, more and more women have joined as pilots, also at the airline I work for. My colleagues and myself react to this with nothing but enthusiasm. Male or female, the consensus is: gender does not matter in judging one’s abilities to operate an aircraft. However, as female pilots we are still a rare species.

 

When passengers notice that it is a female pilot taking them to their destination, they often react to this. My experience is that their reaction is usually very positive: I get smiles, thumbs up, generally a surprised look followed by a smile. They ask if they can take a picture, or make a little smalltalk. I am used that people don’t react indifferent when they see me in my uniform, even when walking in the terminal. They will usually give a second look, point, smile, or look a little surprised.

Standing out

When you stand out, in this case by statistics, this naturally triggers a reaction. The encouragement and surprised-but-positive reactions give a daily boost. But sometimes, the reaction is a not so positive one. When I decided to write about this topic, despite all positive experiences, a particular situation came to mind:

‘Ehm. That is not the pilot, is she?’ ‘You? Pilot? You have got to be joking! This does not feel right. Tell me, do you even know the left from your right?’

I am in the flight deck, we are on the ground in the turnaround. This is the time on the ground, when the passengers of the flight we just completed are at their destination, and disembark. We prepare the next flight, while new passengers board the aircraft, and we will take them to their destination. As flight crew we complete the necessary paperwork, check the weather for the whole route, decide on the fuel that we order, prepare the departure, discuss how we will fly, what specialties we have to take into account for this particular flight, and then do the checklist to see if all that had to be done, is done.

Welcome on board

After all the preparations in the flightdeck, I get out of my seat to make myself a cup of coffee in the front galley. Passengers are still boarding. I get a smile, I nod and smile back. While I pour some hot water into my coffee mug, I hear a female passenger that just got on board of our airplane, ask to the purser: ‘Ehm. That is not the pilot, is she?’ Surprised I look in her direction, and we catch each other’s eyes. I reply: ‘Yes, she is the pilot, how are you madame?’ The woman looks somewhat confused, but smiles and shrugs.

Then a big man, who got on the airplane together with this woman, takes a little step forward. I am still standing in the galley. He turns in my direction: ‘You? Pilot? You have got to be joking! This does not feel right. Tell me, do you even know the left from your right?’

Male chauvinist

In my head, there is a brief moment of short circuit: This rude, middle aged man, standing in front of me, towering over me, staring at me. Left from right? Does this man have a daughter? Then how did he raise her, with what values and beliefs, and has he taught her dignity and self-respect? Where he gets the nerve..? Ah well, quick now, he is actually waiting for an answer:

‘Left, right? Who needs to know about that? I got my pilot license when I found it in a pack of cornflakes. Enjoy your flight sir.’

I nod and smile, and walk back into the flight deck.