My emotions are mixed today, being the tenth anniversary of Qantas flight QF32.
With COVID-19 causing such widespread trauma, I have decided not to celebrate the event more than to acknowledge the team efforts to bring 469 passengers home safely to their loved ones.
So I start this post, that I will expand over the next few days, with the 4 Corners’ video of their 45 minute program into the incident.
How Do I Feel on the 10th Anniversary of the QF32 event?
I remain stunned by the interest maintained around the world for this event. The QF32 event is now a case study in Human Factors training in many business schools, universities and airlines around the world. Law enforcement agencies discuss QF32 in their crisis management courses. People are fascinated by the leadership, teamwork and risk analysis conducted during the flight. I present on these topics and the elements of resilience to people worldwide.
I am proud of the thousands of people in many teams that came together to protect the passengers and get 469 people home to their loved ones. Any win is a team win and I will always be grateful to the other pilots, cabin crew, Qantas staff and even the QF32 passengers for the safe outcome.
I am pleased to have written two books (QF32 and FLY!). These two books detail the WHYs, HOWs and WHATs of resilience, that in turn explains the outcome of the QF32 event. Although the publishers cut the wordcounts on both books, I am pleased with the results.
I have been honoured to give back. I have been pleased to use my platform to help charities and organisations in need. I am an ambassador, patron and supporter of many not-for-profit organisations. I present on the topic of STEM to school children. These are all labours of love.
Finally, I am happy to be alive. The last ten years has been an exciting ride for me, my family, collegues and friends.
Even for Airbus, that had its premier aircraft embroiled in a shocking accident, and for Rolls-Royce that caused it, I have worked to ensure that every person in these two organisations understands that they remain trusted, respected and essential parts of the tightly bound aviation community. We accept things happen, and that we learn , adjust and retry to ensure they never happen again. My relationships with Airbus and Rolls-Royce have never been more honest, trusting, respectful and positive.
Looking back at the RAAF and Qantas, how did those two careers compare?
Airline jobs are just that. They are employment opportunities for people with satisfactory flying skills that are transferrable to other airlines worldwide.
Airlines do not teach people to fly, they convert licenced pilots to specific aircraft then help them maintain those skills. Once you join an airline, career development and resilience are your responsibilities.
The air force is a lifestyle. The military owns you 24/7/365. The military trains its leaders to be resilient team leaders with discipline and impeccable personal qualities. It’s hard work, but with your military colleagues, you become a tight band of brothers. The bonds created in the air force are seldom broken.
Don’t join the military to obtain a free flying licence – because the benefit is not worth the effort. Join the military if you want to fly exciting leading-edge aircraft and be trained throughout your career to become the best you can be (physically and mentally).
The 30th November 2020 is a bittersweet day for me. I’m hanging up my Qantas hat forever.
I didn’t want to end my career this way, two years early. I had planned to fly until my 65th birthday, the maximum age for international pilots to enter the USA airspace. But things (COVID) happen and to be resilient, we must keep calm, logical and methodical when things go wrong.
I have had two great flying careers: 11 years as a officer and pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force, and 34 years flying B747, A330 and A380 aircraft in Qantas.
I will miss all the technical things that are associated with aviation. From the certifications standards, design, construction, training and flying the fast big jets. The science in the engines, navigation, communication, energy, Human Factors, weather, airspace, political implications is modern, structured, resilient and exciting.
I will miss the passengers. I wrote in QF32 (p 76) that I enjoyed flying transport aircraft rather than fighters, because I wanted to jettison ego and and instead, wanted to be part of a team with passengers. When I welcomed passengers onto my flights, I normally explained a particular aviation fact that they might find interesting and told them that I would talk to them personally during the flight. I took about two hours on every A380 flight walking the entire cabin, talking to passengers, calming concerns, passing on information and just talking to them on any the topic of their choice. I met tens of thousands of passengers during my walks, many who have become friends for life.
I will miss the travel. The Human Condition is designed for travel. Our brains evolved to geotag memories, initially to find/avoid predators, food and mates. When we recall memories of people, songs, dates or events, they are returned with their associated locations. While we normalise our oft-visited locations, it’s the novel locations that remain highlighted along with the travel experiences at those areas. This is why novel memories of travel feedback to re-invigorate our interest for business and recreational travel. This is why we will never want to stop travelling.
At 63 years of age, when I hang up my wings, I still have at least one more career in me:
I have three more books to write.
I have helped governments and all kinds of organisations in areas of technology and security (both natural enemies of each other). I have an interest in critical high tech, disruptive industries, and am looking for opportunities to work with companies where I can make a difference.
Only after I die will I retire and play golf.
On the future of travel
I am optimistic about the future for travel. Travel is part of our human condition. It will never cease.
I expect aviation to continue to double every 15 years as it has been since 1975.
I expect a COVID related bust-boom cycle of a similar type that followed the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. I expect the busted aviation industry to boom when a COVID vaccine is developed, the borders open and people trust their travel destinations.
The backlog of weddings and delayed holidays will spur recreational travel when we have a vaccine, borders open and we trust others to be safe.
Business travel will also recover. The conference and exhibition travel industry will emerge from hibernation when COVID clears. Travel for smaller events may be alleviated by virtual conferencing (Zoom, Teams ….)..
My advice to young/fledging pilots
I’ve often been asked what advice I woudl give to young pilots today, either hoping to enter the industry or finding themselves without a job in the current crisis. Here are my views….
Every pilot must have an alternate career in case they lose their medical, flying licence or their airline becomes insolvent. The act of creating an alternate career is an act of mitigating threats, or managing risks.
If you are a pilot without an alternate career, then you have an unmitigated threat, that is a gamble. Rule number one in resilience is to, “Never take a gamble that can kill you”.
Do not dispair if your pilot training is delayed due to COVID-19. Pandemics, like the aviation industry, are cyclical things, so a full industry recovery from COVID, is from a few to ten years away. Use this down-time constructively – don’t waste it. Join the military, start a university course, complete flying exams, or obtain a trade. Please read “I should have listened to my mom before I started my airline pilot training“
If you are young, unemployed and a pilot, then this is a lesson in Threat and Error Management (resilience) that you should act upon to mitigate in future. Please read this post.
If you are older and unemployed, then you must commit to constructive destruction and a lifetime of continual learning. Adapt and develop your skills to ensure you remain relevant and employable. Welcome disruption! When the winds of change blow, build windmills to harness them, not walls to resist them.
These lessons are contained in the FLY! – the Elements of Resilience.
Finally, the pilots that are currently leaving aviation forever, will cause a critical pilot shortfall when the industry both recovers and resumes its delayed growth. If you are a young pilot, your carreer post COVID will be exciting and bright.
COVID Retirement Interviews
I have had the pleasure to be interviewed by many media channesl:
Channel 9 – The Today Show
Karl Stefanovic and Sylvia Jefferies. I have known Karl well since 2011 when he interviewed me for the 60 Minutes program about Qf32.
I was surprised at the end of the interview to see videos made by QF32 passengers who have become Coral’s and my close and dear friends:
- Clare Ryan, from Sydney
- Johanna Friis from Sweden,
- Marion Carroll from BC, Canada.
- Caroline and Derwyn Jones, from London, England, who invited me into their family at home on Christamas day 2018 when I found myself alone on a slip in London.
If you were with me in one of the QF32 teams in the air, or on the ground, then please accept these people’s thanks that are also addressed to you.
Alan Jones on Sky News
Alan is a no-frills straight talker. https://www.skynews.com.au/details/_6209317436001
Dear Captain Richard. In 2007 I was a given a quick private tour of the Airbus facility in Toulouse and took a few photos of aircraft in production, one of which was Airbus A380 chassis MSN 014, unpainted except the flying Kangaroo tail, which became VH-OQA Nancy Bird Walton. If you want these photos for subsequent use, drop me a line back.
Hi Redacted, Yes I am interested. Please email me at email@example.com
Congratulations on a remarkable and fine career. I enjoyed all your posts and reading your books. Enjoy your retirement and sleeping in your own bed again, normal sleeping hours with no time change and of course your family.
Having been a pilot and retired in 2009 with Cargolux I managed to do another 8 years of flying the Harvard ( North American T6 ) which I trained on in the SAAF. These last years were with the Harvard Club, based in Pretoria S. Africa at the Zwartkops military airfield. The club is a non profit business, taking up the public for flights to experience the ol’ timer aircraft and also experience formation flying, aerobatics or just plain sight seeing. The Club can also be followed on Face Book and is kept going by volunteers and enthusiasts of old avaition aircraft.
Keep well and kind regards.
G’day Richard, the last time I spoke to you at a lecture you gave in WA, at Manning, you indicated that you only had a few years left as a commercial pilot.
With the appearance of Covid and the mothballing of all Qantas’ A380, in the US, will this mean that you’ve flown your last A 380 flight, because you will have had to retire, before they return to service?
I always hoped to fly with you on the A380 on one of my Perth to London trips, but alas it never happened.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts on your future and the future of the A 380 at Qantas.
Congratulations for the flight and cabin crews, and for your professional handling of the emergency as PIC, Mr. De Crespigny. One of the best pages written in the History of Aviation, that would be a reference for all those interested in aviation, whether professional or not.
Thank you Francisco for your very kind words.
I was together with my family on that fateful flight. We owe you so, so much! Words cannot describe the gratitude we feel and our admiration of the work by you Richard and the whole crew! Both during the agonising time while (barely) airborne and also in the terminal after the landing! Thank you! Thank you!
Thank you for your comments. I wil pass them on the the crews.
Looking very much forward to your posts! Thanks in advance!
While you certainly had more “skin in the game” than me, I do believe it’s a cause to celebrate.
Like Apollo 13, I believe this was another fine example of man’s mastery of a machine under extreme circumstances.
As an engineer, your level of expertise and demonstration of skill are thoroughly inspiring.
Best wishes and good luck!