Migrating to the Boeing 737

Joining my current airline was a challenging decision. I was leaving one the highest paid jobs in corporate aviation that provided lifestyle options I’ll probably never see again – as long as I’m working for somebody else, that is. If my previous job was based in Sydney, it’s unlikely I would have ever left.

However, a pilot is never satisfied – regardless of what or where he or she is flying – so I was constantly on the lookout for other options. After a long draw out process of careful consideration, I reluctantly migrated back to Sydney for a start-up international operation that planned on services in a Boeing 777 from Sydney to Los Angeles.

The first few months of employment were approached with a cautious optimism. Enthusiasm wasn’t enough to completely blanket the harsh reality and bleak outlook that potentially put an end to our little operation. Initially, it was the early stages of the Global Financial Crisis that rattled us. Later, it was internal industrial issues that left us concerned. Finally, and just when things looked promising, Boeing employees went on strike and delayed our launch date by eight weeks. All the time we were well aware of the big financial question mark looming over the operation that plagued us from the very beginning. We were all acutely aware of the regular crisis meetings that took place behind closed boardroom doors – potentially grounded the airline. Airlines are a vulnerable business at the best of times and, here we were, starting up a long-haul operation in what can only be considered the worst of times. Despite the period being one of the most positive experiences of my life, it was also the most stressful.

I had taken on a few additional roles immediately after I completed my 777 type rating that one wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to do as an entry-level employee of an international airline. As a one-man operation I was tasked to build a learning and information management system that would enable aircrew to complete regulated online learning. While my peers essentially enjoyed a paid holiday for months on end, I banged away in front of a computer – all day, every day – to build a system that was supposed to last three or four months – long enough for each pilot to complete necessary online learning and examinations (in reality, my LMS was only retired last month in favour of a brand new group wide solution). At the same time, I ramped up my own IT business in an attempt to subsidise the massive drop in salary. It was exhausting.

I was often commandeered by our marketing department for photography and video support… and I worked on a few occasions with our media team for other purposes. The fact I wasn’t flying gave me exposure that nobody other than a direct employee in their own department would never get. Working for an airline without aircraft wasn’t without its occasional advantages.

I partook in just about every early airline event we ever held. Aircraft displays, media conferences… you name it. When the operation was finally launched (nearly nine months after I started) I was fortunate to crew the inaugural service to Los Angeles with Ken… and subsequently attended the launch party and other events in LA. I still get an acid feeling in the back of my throat when I think back to the coach ride back to the hotel after partying in Richard Branson’s penthouse. Never again.

It was certainly an honour and privilege being part of the team that helped launch an airline. It was more of a privilege working alongside the dedicated people that made it happen.

Like all great things, however, they often lead to other great things. After years of perpetual jetlag and a few thousand hours in the 777, I’ve completed my last long haul flight and will be migrating over to the domestic operation where I’ll be flying the Boeing 737. Despite the awesome international experience, it’s the short-haul operation that has the most growth and presents the most immediate opportunities.

What will I miss most about the Boeing 777? I’ve had a few people ask. For one, it definitely won’t be Los Angeles. It’ll be the crew rest, new release in-flight movies and gourmet meals. It’ll certainly be a welcome relief to my health not having the girls visit the flight deck every hour or so with nuts, chocolate and ice-cream.

As strange as it might seem, I’m looking forward to being assimilated into a collective pool of faceless staff numbers. The ‘intimate’ nature of a small company isn’t without its challenges.

The Boeing 737 Type Rating

Not unlike Karlene’s recent series on her instrument ground school, I’ll try and document the process of the Boeing 737 type rating here on Flight. Writing about the relatively ‘archaic’ 737 systems and the nature of the operation of the aircraft will help reinforce my knowledge… and it’ll also be a good reference for anybody else that’s due to undertake a similar course of training. The course is rather intense so I’m not quite sure how often I’ll be able to post… but I will post as often as either time or opportunity permits.

One of the best things about aviation – and working for an airline more specifically – is the opportunity we have to effectively alter the nature or condition of our employment. Aircraft type, left seat, right seat, training roles, management, short haul and long haul are just some of the opportunities presented to us that ultimately results in a choice of lifestyle. I can think of no other industry that so readily makes these choices available – not to mention the continued (sponsored) education and vocational support. If you’re looking at a career in aviation, the reasons I’ve described above are a good incentive to start your training.

I’m looking forward to the journey. I’ve felt a level of complacency and comfort lately that I’m not, well… comfortable with. I need the challenge.

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