Browsing Tag

flying

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

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

From journalism to flying jets

‘Why did you want to be a pilot?’ It is a frequently asked question, and my story provides not the most obvious answer. It was not my childhood dream. My dad was not a pilot, nor anyone else in my family. I never ever imagined myself behind the controls of an airplane, until just before getting my ‘Bachelor of Arts’ degree, at age 22. Today I find myself flying jets for several years. So what happened between then and now?

 

In highschool I was a bookworm who excelled in languages. I had no clear idea where I wanted to go in my life, so I chose a broad range of subjects. I wanted to keep all options open, and therefore I also included all beta subjects. Probably I would ‘never in my life’ deal with these formulas again. With the goal of broad knowledge I struggled my way through maths, chemistry, and physics.

Challenging career

Growing up we all dream about our future. I was an eternal dreamer. In my head I created so many different possible futures. What would be my ideal job, and my ideal life? Holland, my country, is great, but I wanted to live abroad. To experience living in several countries would even be better. I did not want to work 9 to 5 with the same people every day. I desired to feel a real passion about my job. Together with her love for literature and writing, this Millenial narrowed it down: journalist! I would create insightful stories for respected media. I would live my life to the fullest, which in my eyes included living abroad, traveling, and a career that would always challenge me. How to get this lifestyle as a journalist? I planned to figure it out along the way, and started at University.                                      

Journalist in doubt

And so I studied literature and journalism. With several freelance writing jobs I payed for my study, and got experience in the field. I loved all the writing assignments. I got to interview famous Dutch authors, and truly enjoyed putting their words into the best articles I could. My grades were good. And then, doubt hit me. What if I was not on the right track? The kind of life I was aiming for required an amazing network, the best writing skills and building a name for myself. What if I would not succeed in all this, and be average at best? What if I ended up glued behind a desk, feeling envious when writing about the people who lived the kind of life I wanted to have? I tried to shake off these doubts, told myself that with attitude and perseverance one can reach a lot.

Several people noticed my doubts regarding a future in journalism. It was my mum who said: ‘Eva, why don’t you visit a flight school? See if this is something for you?’ Wait. What? I didn’t understand her comment. ‘You often express your admiration for the job of airline pilot.’ I did? It turned out I did. Several of my friends confirmed that I had sighed more than once ‘what an amazing job pilots have’. Apparently I had this subconscious dream inside me, and the people around me actually discovered it before me.

Could I be an airline pilot?

Now that my subconscious dream was out in the open, it became clear to me: indeed, I had always had this big admiration for the people flying jets. At the same time a voice inside my head told me this would be absolutely unattainable for me. This conviction is why I had always pushed this fantasy right back, deeply into silence. Could I be an airline pilot?

Some months went by. I researched as much as possible about the aviation industry, education, what the life of a pilot is like, and what it takes to become one. I graduated in maths and physics, with all those formulas I would never deal with again. It turned out I already met all the criteria to apply at a flight school. I realised that the profession of a pilot completely matched with my ideal kind of life. This job would bring more than I could have ever imagined for myself. And it might be attainable, if I dedicated myself to it. Becoming a pilot went from never crossing my mind, to something that became my ultimate goal. It was now time to stop dreaming and take action.

Dedication

I worked hard that year. I wrote my thesis ‘The change in literary culture’ to graduate University. At the same time I prepared for my flight school assessment. I spent days in the University library, and nights researching aviation websites. I was in the final stage of writing my thesis, when I got the invitation for an assessment at the flight school I hoped to get into. When I received the news that I passed the selection procedure, I was over the moon. I remember dancing in front of my mailbox, with the letter in my hand stating I got accepted to start flight training.

This brings me to the next question I get asked a lot: how did I become an airline pilot? I hope you enjoyed my personal story. – Am I happy I made the switch, and is airline pilot my dream job? Yes, absolutely yes!