‘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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!