Where to From Here? By Owen Zupp.
Where to from here? If there’s one question that Kirrily and I are asked most often, it’s this one. With the retirement of the QANTAS Boeing 747, we no longer have an aircraft. However, we still have an airline and I feel for those in our industry that have received more terminal employment news in recent times.
The second question I’m frequently asked is how I manage to keep a positive outlook. To fully answer that, it’s probably best that I revisit my background as we are all ultimately shaped by our experience.
A career in aviation was always a dream for me but it wasn’t necessarily an easy choice. My dad had left an airline and Air Force career behind to spend more time at home and the income of a general aviation pilot wasn’t fantastic. Even with a scholarship, my parents undoubtedly went without to keep me in a good school. So when it came time to learn to fly, my father was able to provide his time and a wealth of experience but not the funds. And that was fine.
At times I held down three jobs to pay for flying lessons and each of those taught me the value of a dollar. However, it was my four years as an “Ambo” that taught me the value of life. I saw the suffering of innocent children and the unfair hand that fate seemed to deal out to one but not another. I was spat at and abused and I held people’s hands as they took their last breath. And I received sincere thanks as I have never received since.
It was life at the extremes.
Each time I had saved enough money for a flying lesson, I took to the sky with unparalleled joy. There was a sense of escape but far more than that – a sense of appreciation. To watch the earth fall away from the wheels in the early sunlight when everything was still and fog patches lay across empty paddocks is an image that I still cherish. It was also time with my dad, who I admired, respected and loved – although we two blokes never spoke like that back then.
Finally, I passed the exams and flight tests and scraped my way into employment as a pilot. At first, I volunteered to fly young Scouts around the sky before gaining employment at an Aero Club. From there, my journey took me everywhere I could imagine, the Kimberley, New Guinea, Micronesia and more. I never earned very much but that never mattered.
My dad died in 1991. That was tough. He never lived to see my career develop, or meet my wife and his grandchildren.
At 29, I joined an airline – Ansett Australia – and flew the 737. At 37, I was unemployed.
At 38, I started with QANTAS at the bottom of their seniority list as a new Second Officer on the 747. The past 18 years have seen me return to the 737, spend three years at Jetstar as an A320 Captain before returning to QANTAS. Both Kirrily and I opted to “drop rank” to Second Officer in the interests of our children and it is a decision we both stand by, even with the retirement of the 747.
The point of all of this is that where I’ve been dictates where I am and where I’m going.
That I didn’t enter aviation as a school leaver allowed me four years as an Ambo that I treasure for what I learned about life. I’m not going to remain bitter that the Ansett collapse hobbled my career as it led me to discover my passion for writing. I don’t regret the slow down of the industry as it prompted me to take the posting at Jetstar and the friendships I made in that time will last a lifetime. This latest career challenge is just asking new questions of me.
More importantly, people are dying. I am healthy and educated, I’ll find a way. There may be sacrifices along the way and retirement plans may look very different but they are still far better options than gasping for a final laboured breath before passing. The aviation industry can be a bubble if you let it. I feel fortunate that my career has had so many twists and turns and indeed, ups and downs. Not only has it made for a fascinating and diverse experience but resilience is developed through adversity and not in a bubble. From every setback, I’d like to think that I’ve emerged a little stronger.
For me, staying positive can be a challenge but not a major one as long as I can stand upright. There are many far worse off physically, mentally and financially. Kirrily and I have hurdles as a result of the current situation but we will take them on one at a time. Our kids must see that adversity is a challenge, not an assumed victor. Our actions, not our words, are the best lessons we can impart.
In the end, I am not standing in the rain at some hideous hour watching the life ebb out of someone, trapped and in pain among a tangled wreck. My mates are still doing that day in and day out in a COVID-frenzied world. They are the heroes that we should ask about staying positive.
Kirrily and I will fly again, what and where we don’t know. The planet has so many questions without answers, so our little concern doesn’t really register on the radar. We have each other, our kids and our health and enough to get by. Where to from here? Who knows? But I’m sure the next chapter in our lives will be yet another interesting one.
Stay safe everyone.