Q&A with a Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 pilot

The ins and outs of flying the Triple Seven into Hobart

With Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 777 cargo charters into Hobart all but finished up now, I had the opportunity to talk about flying down here during the pandemic with one of the pilots that had the opportunity to operate these flights back in January. The pilot has asked to remain anonymous, so we’ll be calling them Josh today. (The last 7 photos were provided by Josh)

JO: What inspired you to choose a career as a pilot and how did you achieve this?
JS: Becoming an airline pilot has always been my childhood dream. When I was a kid I spent countless weekends at the Sydney Airport observation deck looking at aeroplanes, which was probably why I became a plane spotter later on. I particularly worked hard on science subjects in school, they came in useful during my pilot training. I completed my PPL while I was in university then I joined the training programme generously sponsored by Cathay Pacific.

JO: How long have you been flying for Cathay Pacific?
JS: Five years.

JO: What types of aircraft have you piloted?
JS: Boeing 777-200/-300/-300ER. A wide variety of light aircrafts during my training, with most time spent on the Piper Warrior and Diamonds.

JO: Have you been flying throughout the pandemic?
JS: Yes I am among the very few lucky ones who are still flying during COVID. However sometimes I only get rostered as little as one trip a month.

JO: What have been some of the more interesting flights you’ve operated due to COVID?
JS: With slashing air travel demand, our airline has adapted by deploying passenger aircrafts as cargo charters. I have been operating to new destinations like Hobart and places previously served by A330/350 such as Adelaide and Brisbane. I also revisited some existing 777 ports in our network e.g. Frankfurt and Vancouver, with only belly cargo though. I was fortunate enough to ferry a few empty 777s overseas for temporary storage. I see parked aircrafts everywhere I go, these are indeed spectacular sights however I’m genuinely hoping this will come to an end soon.

JO: How much has flying as a commercial pilot changed since the emergence of COVID?
JS: 2020 had been a devastating year for aviation. I certainly feel for our fellow aviation co-workers who are grounded by the pandemic. Being one of the very few luckier ones who are still flying, I am constantly in medical isolation (both overseas and back home) which can be physically and mentally stressful at times. Needless to say, global air travel demands have plummeted so I am only doing minimal amount of flying. However I believe our industry is resilient and adaptive enough and I have my fingers crossed for blue skies ahead.

JO: Were the flights into Hobart organised through Cathay Pacific Cargo or Cathay Pacific?
JS: After all Cathay and Cathay Cargo belong to the same company! Our cargo team has been working hard to organize these charters together with our Australia-based colleagues, in particular our Melbourne team who actually sent their airport & engineering staff over to Hobart.

JO: The flights into Hobart have been with temporary 777s freighters, or as some like to call them “Preighters”. Does Cathay remove the seats on these aircraft?
JS: The economy class seats are removed on four specific 777-300ERs (Ed: -KPY, -KQB, -KQQ, -KQR) for cabin freight. So far we have been operating the Hobart route with these four aircrafts only. The A350s which you may see in Hobart later will feature normal passenger cabins (no seats removed).

JO: Were there any unusual quirks or differences to usual operations when flying into Hobart and unloading the cargo?
JS: The ramp in Hobart was not really built for widebody aircrafts hence we had to park on the parallel taxiway, which also meant refuelling was not available. Prior to departing SYD we had to load enough fuel for both the HBA sector and the onward sector to MEL, taking into account our alternate aerodromes (sometimes as far as ADL & BNE!) and destination weather. The strength of taxiways and runway (aviation geeks may want to look up “PCN”) in HBA could only support a 777 up to a certain gross weight. While determining our final fuel in SYD we also had to make sure our takeoff weight from HBA on the second sector would be within the PCN limits. A lot of math and decision-making going on!

JO: Given the opportunity, would you like to fly into Hobart again?
JS: Absolutely. Hobart (and in fact the whole of Tasmania) is a beautiful place. I did a road trip in Tassie not long ago and I enjoyed every part of the journey.

I’d like to thank the pilot an awful lot, for getting in contact with me, providing the fantastic photos from on the ground here at Hobart, and finding time in their busy life to answer these questions! I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and don’t forget to follow my Instagram for updates on future posts, and the occasional photo!

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