Stood Down by COVID. A Year On. By Owen Zupp.
More than a year has passed since Kirrily and I flew our last commercial service on the Boeing 747 for QANTAS. I was truly fortunate to crew the final flight to the Mojave Desert in July but otherwise we have both been stood down from flying and pursuing other avenues and opportunities. When COVID first impacted our industry I repeatedly wrote of the need to stay positive, pivot and adapt to the situation. Now is a timely opportunity to reflect on the last year and consider what has transpired and whether I actually followed my own advice. First and foremost, the initial lockdown and the continuing need to work from home has led to valued time as a family. The juggling of rosters and jet lag have been replaced by a routine that I have never previously known in my aviation career. I have been able to attend our children’s concerts and cricket with a predictability that has always escaped me.
From a family perspective, it has been a golden year in the face of an otherwise challenging period. For both parents of four children to be stood down from work has obvious fiscal opportunities, however, it is also the chance to set an example. Roll your sleeves up, get on with the task and hand and make the most of every day. Kirrily has been admirable, taking on a role in the health industry, far removed from her career as an airline pilot. We have always endeavoured to stay positive in the face of an uncertain future and an open-ended timeline – as much as we both miss flying.
My personal flight time has gone from about 700 hours in a year to 7 hours in different light aircraft. Still, there may be more flight time on the horizon as COVID-restrictions ease on flight training for the Air Force cadets and I lend a hand with another flying school. I still thoroughly enjoy every moment that I spend aloft and love flying light aircraft and having the opportunity to instruct a new generation of pilots.
Every hour flying is a treasured one.
Elsewhere, it has possibly been the busiest and most diverse year of my working life. For simplicity’s sake, I might itemise some of the landmarks.
– Joined the Air Force Reserves as an Officer.
– Undertook initial officer training – which I thoroughly enjoyed.
– Served as a Section Commander for the flight training of Air Force Cadets.
– Joined the team producing the book for the Centenary of Air Force.
– Commissioned by Air Force to write about the RAAF’s involvement in the Korean War.
Aside from my Air Force writing tasks, I have been fortunate to work in several other areas.
– Consulted on the development of modules for an aviation-related training system.
– Worked in the area of “High Performance Teams”.
– Teamed up to produce a promotional trailer and “storyboard” for a government body.
– Wrote and published “Do it Like a Pilot”. A book on leadership, communication, teamwork and management.
– Wrote and e-published a small Boeing 747 ebook.
– Participated in the final QANTAS Boeing 747 flight to the Mojave Desert.
– Published, printed and shipped a significant number of copies of my book, “747 Queen of the Skies. Reflections from the Flight Deck.”
– Wrote for a range of magazines around the world including Airliner World, Airways, ADBR, Australian Flying, Aerospace Futures and AIPA’s “Altitude”.
– Coached a junior cricket team through an entire season without interruption.
– Volunteered as an instructor for cadets, including my son, each week with an Air League squadron.
I think that I’ll stop there. I’m tired thinking about it and I’m sure that I’ve missed some items. The key point is that I have not wasted a moment – personally or professionally. It has been a “hard slog” at times and the limitation of 24 hours in a day has proved challenging. However, just as I found after the collapse of Ansett Australia, the best form of defence is attack. An idle mind can wander but when there is a task at hand, the mindset is far healthier.
If I have had a shortfall, it has been that the inundation of the work has compromised the time assigned to physical fitness. For me, remaining physically active is a critical element of being efficient and happy in every other aspect of my life. It’s a balance that I am now working hard to rectify – even if my muscles are groaning in protest.
Another key element is the attention to relationships. As I have said, the time together as a family has been precious and created memories that we will cherish. Equally, Kirrily and I have made sure that we have an evening each week, where we escape the day-to-day, relax, chat, laugh and contemplate – just a couple of hours and just the two of us.
So, it’s been a year with continued uncertainty as we look ahead. Still, rather than face it with trepidation, I consider that it is potentially a period of new and exciting challenges. A year ago, I could not have foreseen where the journey would take me, and I am sure that there are more turns in the road ahead. That intrigues me and I await future developments with eager anticipation.
For many, a degree of “normality” has returned to their workplace – not so for Kirrily and I. We have no idea when we will fly again. Even so, we have family to enjoy and a bright future to contemplate no matter what complications may be lying in wait.
Stay safe everyone.