Stood Down Thanks to Covid-19. Day Five. By Owen Zupp.

QANTAS 63 to Johannesburg

(Image: Flightradar 24)


Day Five. Stood Down. Thanks to Covid-19.

An Earthbound Misfit.

It started with a sniff. And that was all that I needed to know there was an issue.
I could feel sinus congestion and having damaged an eardrum previously, I am always loath to take to the sky if there is a risk. Furthermore, in the current climate, or ever for that matter, does a crew member want a pilot that is not operating at 100%. And so, I called QANTAS to report unfit for duty on what may well have been my final flight in the Boeing 747.
It was a particularly difficult call to make as it meant that when I came back from Honolulu some weeks ago – that was my last trip in the Queen of the Skies. Not that this is the first time I have missed my milestones. At Ansett, I turned up to operate AN1 from Sydney to Melbourne at 6am, only to find the doors locked and to be subsequently escorted to my pigeon-hole to collect paperwork and then back to the footpath. When I was posted to Jetstar as a Captain on the A320, I returned from annual leave so close to my return date to QANTAS that it wasn’t worth the investment to regain my currency in the simulator. And now this – no final Johannesburg QF63/64 service on the 747.
So, the day was spent safely at sea level – disappointed but sure that the decision was the correct one. The fitness to fly is non-negotiable.
Instead of possibly catching a glimpse of an iceberg as we headed west or the Southern Lights on the return flight, I waded through the QANTAS Q&A information regarding the Stand Down and the management of leave etc. I crunched numbers for the family budget with due attention to the point at which our leave becomes Leave Without Pay. In the other room, my kids were head down and participating in their first day of online learning at home. Surprisingly, they were so quiet that I forgot they were there. On a positive note, I took some time to work on a manuscript and even the possibility of some writing work emerged which was most exciting.
I took a break outside to take in the sun and the sky and the sinus-easing air. A lone contrail clipped across the sky to the bluest of backdrops and a Fleet Air Arm helicopter passed low over the house. It was as if in the absence of air traffic, someone up there sent me two timely reminders and I must admit, they stung a little. Pink Floyd’s song “Learning to Fly” describes an “earthbound misfit”. I kind of get that.
In the last few days, I had imagined this blog describing a majestic flight, a transformed Johannesburg and self-isolation in a hotel room. The night flight home under a million stars before a spectacular dawn and then parking at Sydney Airport for the last time. Instead, it became the lament of an earthbound misfit, filling out forms. My apologies.
Stay safe everyone and see you tomorrow.


Read Owen’s books here…

Boeing 747 Aviation Icon and the Queen of the Skies