Well about 5 months agao I got official word that my bid for an Airbus 330 conversion was successful. I know, I bid for it. There was a nieve time in my life when I believed the catch phrase “if its not Boeing, I’m not going” and would proudly declare “I don’t want to fly an airbus!”
Oh how a young metro pilot thought he knew everything. Well the fact is, I get bored easily. Now thats not to say that I mastered the Boeing 777, far from it. But, as I did with my previous outfit, I became interedted in the possibility of change. While flying turboprops in Canada, I had the chance to switch fleets and fly multiple types. In fact, for about a year, I was a training Captain on the Metro 2, Metro 3, and Beech 99, while maintaining my qualifications as a Dash 8 First Officer. In short, that meant I was doing recurrent training every few months, and any given day I went to work, I could end up in one fo seven different seats. Despite for a time there was talk of allowing Boeing pilots to fly the 777 and 747 at the same time, that never developed. So to replicate my old habits, I will soon be able to fly the A330 and A350.
The way it works. Well first I complete all the necessary training for the A330-300, which Cathay flies. (The 330-200 for interest has centre fuel tanks and a few hours more range then our 300’s). At the moment, I am about half way through simulator training. The usual gauntlet of technical ground school, and IPT training is done, and now its all simulator flying. In about 2 weeks time I will be checked out and spending a few days relaxing while the HKCAD (Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department) validates my type rating on my license. I must say, the Airbus is a completely different machine all together. Now for those who don’t fly, I’ll try and simplify the degree to which they are different. Its not as simple as a Samsung v. LG remote, or even Apple v. Android. It’s more like comparing math with Latin. The philosophies (of which I’m still wrapping my head around) are just different. Boeing is an airplane, that has systems and in some cases computers to help with a pilot flying the airplane. The Airbus, well its an airplane, but the computers make it fly and the pilots are told not to mess with them! Ha. It is a very sophisticated airplane that has Normal, Alternate, and Direct flight laws. If all the computers fail (or in some cases a combination of dual hydraulic failures) you can end up in Direct Law. Most pilots here this and think “oh the system is degraded and now barely anything works”. Well, yes and now. The things that don’t work, are the various protections that keep the airplane from banking to steeply, or pitching to high. So direct law is’t really a degredation, its just a loss of protections. In other words, its an airplane still, just without the fancy computers keeping the pilot from getting into an undesirebale situation. At the moment, and I don’t see this changing, I’m really enjoying learning the new systems and a new way to fly. Jas I enjoyed learning to fly a Beech 99 10 years ago.
So why the change? It certainly wasn’t an easy decision. There was a reasonalbel chance that I would never have to fly another type once I was on the 777, and I could ride the familiarity and comfort of a single plane all the way to retirement. Pilot’s generally don’t become pilots to fly a single kind of airplane though. So as an aviator, there is an element of a professional challenge in learining a new type, and some pride to be able to say “I have flown the 747-400, 747-8, 777, A330 and soon enough the A350”. Especially that I will have flown all of these types inside 7 years. So the kid in me at the airport fence watching airplanes takeoff and land thinks that is pretty neat. Lifetyle wise, things change for me on the A330. My usual 777 month was 3 long haul flights to North America or Europe, and perhaps a day or two of regional flights. Now, the longest I will fly will be about 7 hours to Dubai. Most flights will be under 5 hours. Which means no more bunks, and no more sleeping on the job. But it also means rather then the chance to takeoff and land the 777 2 or 3 times a month, I will be “hands on” the Airbus with 15-20 sectors a month, and about 7-10 takeoffs and landings under my belt. So proficiency shoul quick with the chance to hanlde this new plane on a very regular basis. Oh, did I mention that the A330 at Cathay doesn’t fly more then 4 hours time zone change from Hong Kong. So say goodbye to up all night in a North American hotel wondering if Netflix has decided to upload this month! And hello to some really great regional patterns. Next month I have a 24 Jakarta layover where our crew hotel is part of a PGA golf resort, so guess what I’ll be doing? I also have a 24 hour layover in Chennai, India. And I absolutely LOVE going to India. Our crew hotels there are usually some of the best. SO a curry lunch and a pool day are in order there. I also have a 36 hour Beijing layover. So its a nice change of pace to have a 36 hour layover after a 4 hour flight rather then a 24 hour layover following a 16 hour flight. Perhpas regional flying like that is unsustainable for a long term career. But the original intention of the conversion courses offered by Cathay, and my goal, is to convert to the A350. The newest airplane in the Cathay Pacific fleet is the A350. We have about 2 dozen A350-900’s and will soon be taking delivery of our first A350-1000. These new additions to the fleet are the reason Cathay has started service to Brussels, Copehagen, Dublin, Gatwick, Barcelona, and Christchurch over the last year, with Washington starting soon, and more to come it seems. So once I have been CCQ’d (cross crew qualified) on the 350, I be able to fly both airplanes. So the hopes are that a nice mix of regional flying and a few long haul trips a month to some new destinations will be the best of both worlds so to speak.
More to come from the A team experience in the coming weeks when I get to fly the airplane for real.
Fly safe everyone,