Dynamic aviation duo

We understand how an airport operates, at least sort of. And that’s mainly because of who is visible to travellers - flight crew, cabin crew, ground staff and pilots are the main airport workforce we see within the airport terminal building and surrounding areas.

But what about those who are working behind the scenes in hangars, cargo terminals, on line maintenance stations.? Advance spoke to two Aussies who are adventuring in the sky and on the ground in Hong Kong:  a line maintenance engineer – a pivotal role safeguarding continued airworthiness; and a cargo pilot – an important role facilitating global trade. 

 Interview by Tammy Lee, Marketing & Communications Officer, Advance

Shaun Connors: engineering a safer sky

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Shaun Connors is a line maintenance engineer at Cathay Pacific Airways. Stationed at the Hong Kong International Airport ramp, he oversees and approves the airworthiness of an aircraft - a role of paramount importance for aircraft and passengers.

When an aircraft touches down and passengers depart from cabin, it’s the beginning of his work – reviewing logbooks, performing inspections and scheduling necessary maintenance tasks – to ensure reliable and proper operation of an aircraft and to get the next batch of travellers to their respective destinations safely.

Working at the airport ramp is often an exciting gig for Shaun.He needs to be quick on his feet to resolve issues each aircraft might have, at any given time and often with very tight turnaround. 

He shared with Advance how he enjoys his aviation life in Hong Kong, and what he misses most about Australia.

Why did you choose to relocate to Hong Kong? Was it your decision or an opportunity that was presented to you?

I decided I wanted  to move here in 2016 but wasn’t until the right opportunity came along in October 2017 that I actually moved here. My position is now helping to manage all of the engineering aspects for all of the ports which Cathay Pacific Airways flies to.

I find the culture in Hong Kong amazing and the fast pace of life here to be enjoyable, as well as the central location of Hong Kong to the rest of the world makes travelling really easy. A lot of people also question me on this, but I actually like the small apartments in Hong Kong compared to the large property I was living in in Australia! It is just so much easier to manage and clean plus cost of maintaining it is much cheaper. Lastly a major benefit is the tax. In Australia I was paying 38% tax rate, whereas in Hong Kong I’m only paying 15%.

What made you choose to work in line maintenance? Could you tell us the major difference between base maintenance and line maintenance?

I started in a regional airline working in all aspects of maintenance including base, heavy and line maintenance, this gave me an all-round experience. In 2010 I got the opportunity to work for Cathay Pacific Airways as a line maintenance engineer. I like the line maintenance environment, it is a lot more fast paced in that you have only a small window to perform maintenance and ensure that the aircraft is in an airworthy state for its next flight. This creates quite a variety in that you don’t know what to expect and have to be quick on your feet to be able to react to whatever the aircraft and crew throw at you. You can go from relaxed and easy day to 100% flat out in the blink of an eye.

What's the most challenging part of your job? What's the most interesting part?

Most Challenging: I used to work in a ramp environment working on aircraft but have since changed to an office environment sitting behind a desk, attending meetings and dealing with many new issues that I have never faced before. The good news is that I still occasionally travel and spend time on the aircraft getting my hands dirty.

Most Interesting: I was previously based in Melbourne and we only focused on our own station, but now I am looking at a global view of the Cathay Pacific network. It has really opened my eyes to the operation as a whole instead of just one station. Looking at different stations and cultures has been fascinating.

What's your typical work day look like?

Typical day is checking emails which have come overnight then we attend the morning meeting which goes over all of the issues in the operation for the last 24 hours including any follow up actions which might be required. After any follow up actions have been completed, I work on my core duties to ensure the operation is running smoothly. I will then work on any special projects I have at the time with the aim to improve the procedures and processes of the work our engineers do.

The public might be well aware of the roles that flight crew and cabin crew have within the airport operation, but not the maintenance side. Can you describe the importance of aircraft maintenance/ transit checks?

The role of an aircraft engineer is definitely a thankless job at times.  If the aircraft is operating normally with no issues then it is assumed that this is how it should run.  It’s only when something goes wrong or something is not working, like the inflight entertainment system, that people think about the engineers and not in a very positive way. But the engineers are working around the clock and have had large amounts of training and recurrent training so they can perform maintenance checks and undertake defect rectification to ensure the highest level of safety and ensure that the aircraft is in an airworthy condition. Only once the engineer has released the aircraft stating it is fit for flight does the pilot take over and start his flight preparations.

What do you miss most about Australia?

I have only been back to Australia once since I relocated and that was to assist in the recovery of an Aircraft on Ground aircraft. While I was there I stocked up on the things I miss the most about Australia - Vegemite and Bundaberg Rum.

Andrew Mizzi: the enthusiastic pilot championing the world’s busiest air cargo hub

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The job of an airline pilot is probably the most sought after profession in the aviation industry. And the excitement and challenges that come with flying an aircraft certainly attracts aspiring minds to become pilots.

Andrew Mizzi is one of the dedicated pilots of Cathay Pacific’s cargo fleet Boeing 747-8F- Boeing’s largest wide-body cargo freighter, built in the United States. Originally from Queensland, Andrew chose to move to Hong Kong, site of the world’s busiest cargo airport in 2018. shared with Advance his 10-year journey to becoming a pilot, including  his first solo flight experience.

You studied economics at university. How did you develop an interest in aviation?

One of the interesting things I have found amongst my pilot colleagues is a wide and varied education background.  We have pilots with law, business and psychology backgrounds, as well as many with engineering degrees.  Everyone’s entry into the career has been different, along with the path they took to reach flying for a major international airline.  

My interest in aviation, like many pilots, was deeply rooted through my childhood.  I still have vivid memories of going out to the airport with my parents to watch aircraft land. Through the growth of personal computing in the ’90’s, I learnt the foundations of being a pilot with home computer simulation.  In my case a lack of a mentor or role-model delayed my entry into the industry until I was in my mid 20’s. If I had a clearer idea of the entry pathways to becoming a pilot out of high school, I’m sure I would have made the decision much earlier.  There can also be a significant up-front financial burden however I was fortunate to be able to self-fund all of my flight training and studies.

The industry is rapidly changing to accommodate a global shortage of experienced and capable pilots, and it’s never been easier to pursue a career in aviation.  Airlines are establishing their own training schools, the military offers fantastic and rewarding careers in aviation, and the internet is providing a great new avenue to inspire the new generation nowadays when kids are not allowed to visit the cockpit mid-flight.

How long did it take for you to become a pilot?

From starting through to my present role, it has taken 10 years. 

There are four major milestones in the development of an airline pilots career.  Obtaining a Private Pilot Licence is the first, very enjoyable step, and takes several months of full-time study.  It provided the foundations of being able to operate an aircraft safely with passengers.  

The Commercial Pilot Licence built upon this, further developing skills and airmanship disciplines, which then allowed me to gain employment in northern Australia.  Generally pilots gain their first job with 200-250 flying hours built as well as  several years of classroom study.

The Air Transport Pilot Licence is a prerequisite for most airlines, and generally represents about 5 years of industry experience (a specific mix of more than 1500 flying hours), along with passes in subjects such as advanced meteorology, aviation specific physiology and psychology, aircraft systems, aerodynamics and aviation law. The next milestone is  Captain of an airliner, which varies amongst airlines and can range from anywhere between 2 to 20 years, depending on many factors.

Why did you relocate to Hong Kong? Was it your choice or an opportunity presented to you?

The decision to move to Asia was long in the making.  While the opportunities as a pilot in Australia were great, the prospect of furthering my career at a diverse international airline while flying to all corners of the world was too hard to pass up.  The decision to move was accelerated slightly due to the collapse of an airline I was working for in Queensland, however the timing was perfect to move to Hong Kong and I’ve never looked back.  My wife and I absolutely love living in Hong Kong and we’re excited to have our son grow up in this vibrant city.  

What's your most memorable flying experience?

No pilot would ever deny that their ‘first solo’ is one of their most memorable experiences.  Akin to a teenager being handed the keys to a car and driving alone for the first time. My first solo occurred with 7 flying hours under my belt, and involved taking off, joining the traffic pattern at the aerodrome, and landing, without my instructor guiding me along.  It was a great confidence builder, though I’d love to go back and see just how good (or bad) my landing was! 

I have also thoroughly enjoyed roles in training pilots for several employers throughout my career, and being involved in the conduct of aircraft test flights.

Can you share what kind of preparation a pilot needs to do prior to flying? And upon the aircraft touching down?

Several hours before a flight departs a flight documents package is prepared by our dispatchers which includes our filed route, weather and notices.  Careful study of these independently by each pilot allows us to develop a picture of how the flight is going to be conducted and identifies any risks that need to be mitigated.  We regularly fly with a set of crew that we’ve never worked with before, so each pilot has clearly defined responsibilities and set of tasks to complete. These are carefully orchestrated with the assistance of many people on the ground; dispatchers, aircraft engineers, cabin crew, handling agents and cargo loaders.

Post-flight has a small amount of paperwork that needs to be completed however generally no more than 10 minutes after the engines are shut down.  One of the attractive attributes of the job for many is that there is little work to be taken home; once you’re done you can focus on your family and hobbies until your next flight.  I along with many pilots use the opportunity to run a side-business in my spare time and I also serve on several committees along with being a Flight Data Analyst for Cathay Pacific’s 747 fleet.

Why did you choose to learn to fly the Boeing 747?

The 747 was assigned to me on my first day at Cathay Pacific.  It is thoroughly an honour to fly and through its 50 years of history and development into its current model, the 747-8, Boeing have done a tremendous job at creating a very capable and pilot friendly aircraft.  While I look forward in the future to flying more aircraft types, the opportunity to fly his iconic aircraft is great for me at the moment!

Besides working as a pilot, you are also part of the Aircraft Design & Operation Committee, what's your role and what do you do?

The International Federation of Airline Pilot Associations has several committees which use subject matter experts to help formulate policy and lead pilot input into the development of regulations and design criteria.  The Aircraft Design and Operation Committee specifically deals with improving safety through how the pilot interfaces with the aircraft.

Locally in Hong Kong I also serve on the Technical and Safety Committee for the Hong Kong Airline Pilots Association, which along with looking after the safety interests of our member associations and pilots, also includes pilot involvement on safety committees with the aviation industry, Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong Observatory, Civil Aviation Department ,etc.  It has been a great way to hone my expertise along with giving back to the piloting community.

What do you miss most about Australia?

I’ve been very fortunate that my aviation career has taken me to all corners of Australia.  I’ve lived on a cattle station in the Kimberley, regularly flown low-level through the most remote stretches of coastline the country has, lived the island life in the Torres Strait, and battled through cold fronts down south.  There really hasn’t been much of Australia I haven’t been to, and its left me with a deep appreciation of the diverse Australian culture and life; one that I’ve happily brought to Hong Kong and hope to pass down to my baby son.  I do miss having a good quality and economical supermarket and a wide selection of Australian meat!

My family is very fortunate though that Hong Kong is well connected with regular flights to Australia and we can get back quite easily.