Careers in Aviation, A Degree of Satisfaction. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Thursday, January 26, 2012

Should you sit in an American hotel room for any period of time and have the pleasure of hunting through 500 channels of cable TV, it becomes apparent that one can undertake a ‘college course’ in just about anything; from leg waxing to law enforcement. Furthermore, it seems that unless you have the associated piece of paper your chances of employment may be severely compromised. Are tertiary studies in aviation worth the time and money to Australian pilots?

As an unemployed 737 pilot in his thirties, the Ansett collapse threw up a whole spectrum of new challenges. Career, financial and personal security had taken an unplanned leave of absence and the future seemed a rather murky place. It was a bit like a mid-life crisis without the red convertible. Throughout this period of self-assessment and priority shifting, a new career was always a distinct possibility. It was this examination of all options that led to a visit to Centrelink that is still with me to this day.

As I sat in my best interview suit, the employment officer flicked through my Curriculum Vitae and supporting documentation. He flipped the pages of my green covered ATPL whimsically and even glanced at the log-book that told the tale of 10,000 hours. Returning to my resume, his face lit up, “You were an Ambulance Officer previously. This might be of use.” This was the first inkling that my dedication to a career in aviation may be worth zip. He then rummaged further through my papers, squinted and asked me, “Have you any tertiary qualifications?” I replied in the negative, but explained that a first class Airline Transport Licence requires years of theoretical and practical application. It called for numerous exams and none of those 50% results that they call a pass in the real world. I then proudly informed him that it was all paid for by my own hard earned dollars. He looked back at the paperwork and then at me, “You were an Ambulance Officer previously. This might be of use.”

It was shortly thereafter that I decided to reassess my options. Fortunately, within months I was able to secure another airline job and many of my previous career issues became mute. Even so, the matter of a tertiary qualification stayed with me as I no longer possessed the naïve, laissez faire ‘job for life’ attitude. It was to this backdrop that I began to research university studies. I discovered that I was fundamentally a ‘mature age’ student, yet this far from guaranteed a place in any course of study. Many required evidence of more recent studies. Catch 22.

Wary of my eggs being in one basket, I reluctantly examined aviation Degrees and was pleasantly surprised. My industry experience would be recognised and I could enter a course of post graduate studies; a Masters Degree in Aviation Management. The course was available full time, part time and via correspondence over the internet. Within the syllabus lay generic subjects such as Project Management that could be of use in any field of endeavour, not just aviation. Additionally, if I established a track record of study in this course, entry to other faculties may be possible as a mature student. I decided to enroll.

Formalising Qualifications:

One of my primary motivations for undertaking tertiary studies was to formalise my qualifications. We operate in a specialised industry that can render us highly qualified and thoroughly unemployable. Tertiary qualifications are able to speak the universal language of the workplace and offers a yardstick to those who are unfamiliar with our chosen field. Some subjects may not bear direct relevance to the world in general, but this is the case for many degrees.

What the tertiary qualification does signal is application. Particularly when studied in conjunction with full time employment, a high degree of resolve and dedication are required. This is recognised by employers, be they airlines or anybody else. Certainly, so does an ATPL, but it does translate into a tangible quantity for many. A high proportion of recruitment staff at airlines are non-pilots and whilst one would hope they understand the commitment required for an ATPL, you can almost guarantee that they understand the effort required for a degree.

 An Edge:

As we all know, aviation is a highly competitive industry and a good proportion of ‘right time and right place’ doesn’t go astray either. In such a fierce environment, any edge an aspirant can get is time and money well spent. That is not to say that the old-fashioned slog of accumulating hours should be put on the back-burner: far from it. What is worth stating is that if you can apply yourself to gain a qualification above and beyond the next applicant, you stand a good chance of getting the nod on the big day.

It is now possible to obtain a Commercial Pilot Licence through Universities and graduate with both a licence and degree. This would have to be advantageous in the long term. If the opportunity is not there, or the timing is not right, consider studies again at a later date. The flexibility of studies over the internet and recognition of industry experience means that it’s never too late.


Let’s face the facts, aviation and the airlines cannot offer the long term security that they once did. Our world and our industry is in constant state of flux. Fuel prices, low cost carriers, US Chapter 11 operations, terrorism and so on. Unless your crystal ball is extremely well tuned, it is very hard to make any predictions about the future. Remember a little operation called Pan Am? Having been through the collapse of an airline I am aware that you need everything going for you to keep moving forward. Whilst I never could have seen job security being an issue when I was twenty, I certainly can now I’m forty with three children and sleep better knowing that there are options available to me.

Similarly, I used to be seven foot tall and bulletproof. These days I’m not so tall and definitely not bulletproof. Medical issues have plagued pilots, at times, from a relatively young age. Your medical is your licence. You may blitz every check and simulator session with flying colours, but a stone in the eye from the neighbour’s ride-on mower will put paid to that in a heartbeat. Protecting yourself isn’t about being pessimistic. To the contrary, it’s about peace of mind and the ability to thoroughly enjoy the present. A tertiary degree is a very sound form of insurance.

There’s more to aviation than flying:

For Beech and Boeings to stay in the air safely, there is a myriad of support staff. In time pilots often develop a taste for management, training, flight safety or projects, such as the introduction of a new type. Such options do not wrench the pilot from the cockpit for life, but offer a challenge and change to routine. These positions are numerous in airlines and often provide an interesting mix that brings about greater job satisfaction but, once again, competition for the jobs can be fierce. A tertiary qualification not only assists in the application process, but may well provide the individual with the skills to successfully undertake the task.

Is it worth it?

Sometimes you can be blessed and waltz through life and career without a hiccup. It is, however, very rare. Furthermore, pilots are inherently a self-critical bunch who hold themselves to higher standards than any Test Officer or Check Captain would ever seek. They need challenges. Tertiary studies seem to offer not only security, but a level of satisfaction that is often sought after by pilots at all levels. Notwithstanding, there is the genuine worth of a degree in the gaining of knowledge and the enhancement of employment and subsequent career potential.

The financial cost of a tertiary qualification is not unsubstantial. If it can be gained concurrently with a Commercial Licence, tremendous. If not, it may be a while before the coffers permit the extravagance of further education, however, do not let the passage of time completely extinguish the flame. A degree may be out of reach in the short term, but there are still tremendous courses on offer in Accident Investigation, Safety Management and the like. The main point will always be to build your logbook, but also try to extend your portfolio.

The pursuit of further education is never easy. It is a test of persistence, motivation and resources. The rewards, however, are great and will provide benefits of a varied nature regardless of the stage of your career. A tertiary qualification may land you that job you desire, allow you to start your own enterprise or earn a promotion within the ranks of management. Whatever your particular goals may be, it will certainly provide you with a great degree of satisfaction.

Boeing Dusk. An Aviation Blog Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, January 25, 2012

...readying for departure from Hervey Bay, Queensland.


Here Comes the Sun. An Aviation Blog Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The sun creeps above the horizon as the top of descent into Sydney approaches....

Learning to Fly at An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Monday, January 23, 2012

Hi All,

Firstly, thank you again for the amazing response to my new website and blog. The number of visitors continues to grow rapidly each day, from the farthest reaches of this amazing planet.

Of particular interest are the messages and questions that I am receiving about the varied aspects of aviation. From pursuing a career as a pilot to the subtle points of aerodynamics, commercial aviation, private flying and more. Consequently, I will tailor my content to what you good people are calling for, so standby for some diversity!

I will continue to post photos and footage in addition to the articles as it is apparent that a glimpse from the cockpit is always popular and may well be worth "a thousand words". I'll also look at learning to fly and discuss some of the common principles of flight. Really, the possibilities are endless, so please continue to contact me and let me know what you want. I'll be only too happy to respond with more new content.

Thanks again and please continue to share this exciting journey with me.


The Heart of the Storm. An Aviation Blog Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Saturday, January 21, 2012

...I think we'll give this one a wide berth.

Thanks for supporting my aviation blog!

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hi All,

It’s rather early here in Australia, but I couldn’t let the opportunity to pass without thanking everyone for supporting my new website. The number of people visiting, and in particular the blog, has been overwhelming when I consider that the website was only launched about six weeks ago.

The concept was to share my thoughts and writings on aviation and other interests that I have, although I know that I am just one miniscule fish in the internet’s vast ocean. The interest shown by everyone out there has firmed my resolve to keep writing and build this blog even further. 2012 promises to unveil some exciting new projects too, so I’ll be spreading the word through this newly found means.

There were a number of family and friends that encouraged me to launch this website, but Hayley Dean from ‘Me Marketing’ who supported my charity flight in 2010 was a major force. As was another amazing ‘There and Back’ stalwart, Rob Brus. Since the site launched it has been kindly been picked up by a range of other aviation sites and podcasters, so I thought I should mention them here.

Australian Aviation Magazine

Plane Crazy Down Under Podcast

The Airplane Geeks Podcast



The Aircrew Book Review

Me Marketing

Rob Brus

Thirty Thousand Feet

So finally, thanks again. Please keep coming back as you have all inspired me to continue building the blog and there’ll be new content appearing all the time. Thanks also for your messages and comments, I gladly welcome them. That’s what the contact page is for. Contact Owen.

Thanks and take care, but for now it’s back to the writing.



A Boeing 747 at the rainbow's end. By Owen Zupp

Owen Zupp - Monday, January 16, 2012

                  ...even on a wet day, there's a bright side.

Spitfire. The Battle of Britain and Beyond.... By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, January 15, 2012

Something Old. Something New. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, January 15, 2012

Despite powered flight’s mere century or so of development, it has come an awfully long way in that time. From frail craft of rag and tube to supersonic fighters of savage stealth, the range of creation seems to have only been limited by the imagination.

Yet within this sphere of rapid change and new frontiers, there have also been craft that have created their own legends. Whether in the form the Supermarine Spitfire’s classic lines, or the global reliability of the pioneering Douglas DC-3, certain aircraft have a means to charm their way into history, whilst others do not. Some have burst into the headlines announcing a revolution of sorts, while others have slowly endeared themselves through the years like a dependable friend. Occasionally, a machine will do both; the Boeing 747 is such an aeroplane.

I recently flew on the flight deck of the impressive Boeing 747-8 Freighter; an aircraft that has made a massive stride in extending the longevity of this already venerated aircraft. To add some context, it must be considered that the first Boeing 747 took to the skies on February 9th, 1969 and at the time represented a quantum leap from the already successful Boeing 707. Since that time nearly 1,500 have been built and variants have served in roles as varied as “Air Force One” to the aircraft used to piggy-back the Space Shuttle home. It changed the face of international travel and the bottom line for many of its operators. Yet despite such a tremendous history, it seemed that after 40 years its race may have been run as the Airbus A380 became the modern monolith and mammoth twin-jets began to stretch across many of the routes the 747 had called home. But the 747 still had one more card to play.

The 747-8 boasts a new wing, with both stylish and effective raked wingtips as well as engine and flight deck technology common to its younger stable-mate, the Boeing 787. In addition to the 747-8F freighter, there is the 747-8I ‘Intercontinental’ passenger version with a stretched fuselage and an increased fuel capacity compared to its 747-400 predecessor. The 747-8 is a modern, more efficient model of a proven performer that will see the type flying even further into the 21st Century.

Through the astute, ongoing adaptation of an established aircraft, the Boeing 747 has not only survived, but flourished, while other models have come and gone. In the beginning it was a wide-body revolutionary, with its upper deck and enormous capacity. However, its ability to remain at the top of its field is by every count equally impressive.

While the 747 has proven to be a giant in both name and nature, a team of aerospace engineers have been busily starting their own revolution at the opposing end of the slide rule. Far from a long range mammoth, they have been exploring the possibilities of air travel on a very small scale. However, the project is only small in terms of physical dimensions as its potential has this aircraft fighting well above its weight. This is no “Jumbo Jet”; in fact it is the “Puffin”.

Born from a Doctoral degree by aerospace engineer, Mark Moore, the Puffin is a concept aircraft designed to uplift a sole occupant. On the face of it, that doesn’t sound too special, however, consider that the craft is electrically powered and stands upright on four legs before lifting off vertically and transitioning into level flight with the pilot lying prone. Offering VTOL capability and reasonable horizontal flight performance in a manner reminiscent of the VF22 Osprey, this little bird packs a punch.

The Puffin is a far cry from the novel ‘rocket’ back packs that have emerged from time to time since the Germans first investigated the subject in World War Two. The pilot is enclosed and by virtue of its electric powerplant it is not only efficient, but stealthy. Being low on both noise and thermal signature, potential roles for the Puffin include the rapid deployment of elite troops and the delivery of supplies as an unmanned vehicle. Its quiet noise footprint would also render it desirable in a civil application as a personal transport.

With a basic weight well under 200 kg, including the 45kg battery, the Puffin has the ability to cruise around 140kt and sprint to 280kt. As with all electric vehicles, the battery technology is a limiting factor and gives the Puffin a range of only about 80 kilometres for the moment, but that is bound to improve along with the batteries. This is no longer the stuff of cartoons like ‘The Jetsons’, this is an emerging frontier with the evolving technology to support the concept. The first third scale unmanned Puffin is set to fly shortly and the interest in this project is bound to grow.

Behind the great aerospace advances are the men in the white coats with their vision and their science. In a field of endeavour so often associated with wings, gold bars and epaulettes, these ‘shadow men’ are the unsung heroes of the aerospace industry. They conjure the concepts and breathe life into them through uncompromising calculation. Without them, the 747 could not become a legend and the Puffin could not become reality. As a planet, we would never have heard the words about “one small step for a man...”

We were once told that the sky was the limit, but this has been proven not to be the case. As legends continue to fly farther and faster and new birds make their first tentative hops, it is worth considering the legacy of the men, women and machines that have gone before. For aviation, sometimes the way ahead will involve extracting one more dance out of a proven performer, while other tasks will call for an entirely new approach. As with so many aspects of life, the choice may come down simply to something old, something new.


Title image from NASA.

So you want to be a pilot? An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Tuesday, December 20, 2011


So You Want to be a Pilot.....

 By Owen Zupp.


 Author of 'Solo Flight' and '50 Tales of Flight'

I recently took a young lad for a flight over our local district; just a dawdle for half an hour or so. He keenly looked down upon the earth with that bright-eyed enthusiasm that all youngsters with dreams of flight in their hearts tend to do. For me, it’s over forty years since my father shared that experience with me for the first time, although I still vividly remember the ground falling away from the Cessna’s wheel outside my window. It was liberating and to quote John Gillespie Magee’s immortal poem ‘High Flight’, I truly felt that we had “slipped the surly bonds of Earth”. The fuse had been lit and the fire was to rage inside me until my turn came to take my own aircraft aloft.

Along the way the journey would prove to be both a struggle and an adventure. There would be weeks where the wage only just covered the rent but there would be nights where the sounds of the New Guinea jungle would play an amazing tune as I hung in my hammock. There would be life in a caravan in the midst of 40 degree heat and nights where the ice was getting so thick on the wings that I was sure there was no way out. I would bury good friends who had fallen in harm’s way and bury relationships that couldn’t overcome the distance and absence. But at the end of the day, I was flying.

Aviation was much more than a career choice for me; it was more akin to facilitating a passion or feeding an addiction. I had never possessed an alternative ‘life plan’ and always figured that I’d never need one. Yet now as I contemplate aviation on another 3am drive to the airport, I question whether it is everything thing to me that it once was. Had the dream become little more than a means to an end? For so much has changed in the industry that it is almost unrecognisable when compared to that first flight in the tiny, gleaming Cessna of the 1960s.



The face of the pilot has been through many transformations over the last century. From fledgling pioneers to heroic knights of the air, the aviators were seen as keen, strong and fearless. And in those days they definitely needed to be, although a little dose of ‘crazy’ was also a useful ingredient in the mix. When the world found the post-war peace of the 1950s and the airliners began to span the globe, it was not so much heroism as glamour that now painted the picture of the pilot. Exotic foreign lands and five-star hotels were the office, while the flight deck laid at his feet views of grand diversity. And they were ‘his’ feet as the airlines were still a man’s domain. Obviously this imbalance needed to change and finally it did when it was realised that women could actually operate airliners just as efficiently as their male counterparts. But while this door opening was a change for the better, it was far from the only change.

Jet travel saw the slashing of flight times and crossing the globe slowly moved further away from its former perception of luxury travel that was more akin to a cruise liner. World travel became big business where deals across borders could be sealed with a handshake in a matter of hours, rather than days. Passengers no longer had to layover in exotic ports, but could catch connecting flights and travel through the night to be home days earlier. And while these changes offered up a variety of worthwhile options for the customer, the role of the airline pilot was beginning to change.

And change it did. No longer did the role resemble the ship’s captain surveying the world from the bridge, instead the pilot became more closely related to the hard-working truck driver. Additionally, the security needs of a fragile world meant that air-crews were faceless creatures secured away in a bullet-proof flight deck. Like a rare species of nocturnal mammal, a glimpse of them could be caught if you happened to be in just the right place at the right time. The children’s visits to the flight deck were now a thing of the past and announcements about the world passing outside the windows were replaced by in-seat entertainment and iPods.



As fuel prices rose and fiscal reality rammed home, the five-star stop-overs disappeared. Low-cost carriers emerged to place further pressure on the bottom line of an already capital intensive industry. In some quarters, pilots began to pay for their own training to effectively buy a ‘jet job’ and their wages dropped as well. Fiscal reality had arrived for aviation and its survival depended on squeezing every inch of efficiency out of the operation in what was now a highly competitive industry. Accordingly, multiple days of sight-seeing in ports became measured in hours before it was time to turn around and cross the Pacific Ocean or some great continent once more. Travel became more routine and frequent and over a far greater distance and time. Sleep became the really valuable commodity to the pilot and crews flying to Europe could routinely see their ‘body clock’ passing them in the opposite direction somewhere over Afghanistan. Days off at home would be spent re-adapting to the time-zone just before it was time to leave again. Similarly, domestic flying became a series of multi-sector days, with minimum turn-arounds at the hotel before the transport would be shuttling the crew back to the airport for another day in the saddle. Just as glamour had replaced heroism, routine and efficiency had become the pilot’s new benchmark.

It was still dark as I pulled into the airport car park to start another day in the flight levels. I spared a thought for the young lad with the gleam in his eye and a burning desire to fly. I contemplated my own career and wondered if I had foreseen the hours of study, the cost of training and the years of minimum wage and second jobs would I have been so enthusiastic? If I had foreseen the freezing cold pre-dawn, pre-flight inspections and the lonely hours waiting for passengers at hot remote airstrips, would I have accepted the challenge? If someone had told me that the airline operations would become just like any other job, would I have listened to them? If I had known then all that I know now, would I have ever chosen to be a pilot?


Absolutely. In a heart-beat.


"So You Want to be a Pilot..." is an excerpt from the best-selling  '50 Tales of Flight'



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