Varrin’s Aviation Story – Nippon Cargo Airlines

Transition to NCA

When World filed for Bankruptcy, I decided I needed to come up with a new career plan. The short version was that I would transition to the 747-400, finish my college degree, and start looking for new work. I finished my 747 transition in mid-2012 and finished my degree in early 2013. I had already been attending job fairs and evaluating where I might like to work.

When I was flying primarily Pacific freight, I discovered that I really liked that kind of work. I saw many cargo carriers flying through Anchorage on a regular basis, including Japan Airlines, Eva, China Airlines, Nippon Cargo Airlines (NCA), Cathay Pacific, Korean Airlines, Atlas, and, of course, UPS and FedEx. I was interested in that kind of work, but also explored other ideas. Some overseas airlines hire western crewmembers, and I was considering a few such jobs. Some of those jobs were regular passenger jobs (like Emirates or Qatar), some were cargo jobs (eg. Air China Cargo), and some did both (eg. Korean, Asiana, Cathay, China Airlines, etc.).

At some point, I discovered that NCA not only hired Americans, but had U.S. crew bases. The only other Asian cargo carrier I was aware of that had U.S. bases was Cathay Pacific. For a variety of reasons (too long to go into here), I wasn’t interested in going to work there. But NCA sounded more and more interesting the more I learned.

NCA was originally a joint venture between All Nippon Airways (ANA – the ‘other’ big Japanese scheduled airline) and NYK (Nippon Yusen Kaisha – the big Japanese shipping company which is part of  Mitsubishi). ANA sold their shares to NYK a few years ago and now NCA is a wholly owned subsidiary of NYK. That’s a better starting proposition than being owned by a hedge fund. The parent’s primary business is transportation. They have operated 747s for their entire existence, and acquired some of the last 747-400s ever made brand new from Boeing as part of a fleet modernization in the mid-2000s. More recently, they placed an order for the new 747-8 and had taken delivery of 2 by the time I started considering working there.

In early 2013, I started corresponding with one of the contract agencies offering the NCA contract. I also had a serendipitous meeting with a NCA pilot in Anchorage while I was on a commercial flight home from a World trip. As a result of those interactions, I decided to apply for the job. I interviewed in May, 2013, and started in July, 2013.


The training at NCA is very long. They said it would take 7 months or so and that turned out to be quite accurate. Almost all of that time was spent in Japan. I arrived in Japan in early July, 2013. Our group got two breaks to go home, one in November for about two weeks, and again starting in early December for about four weeks. I finished my line check in mid-February, 2014.

During the training, NCA brought my family to Narita for a visit. Because we home school, they were able to spend 3 1/2 weeks there. It was a fantastic, educational, fun experience for everyone. I appreciate NCA’s accommodation of our family during what would otherwise have been a very lengthy separation. We timed the trip well. They spent most of September in Japan. I had been gone since early July, so it had been about two months since I had seen them. That wound up being the longest single stretch apart due to the subsequent breaks.

No one part of the training was particularly difficult. What made it difficult was the length of it, the overall volume of information, and the way the information is organized. Our instructors were all Japanese, but between having 747 experience already and having instructors who spoke reasonably good English, everything worked out okay.

747-400 and 747-8 Copilot

NCA 747-8

NCA 747-8 on the ramp in Narita

My first position with the company was Copilot on the 747-400 and 747-8. In the U.S. we have come to call them First Officers, but the Japanese still say Copilot. NCA continued to take delivery of more 747-8s and the U.S. flying was the first to transition to the -8. I started out based in Chicago and was able to designate New York (JFK) as a gateway, which means I can start and end my trips there. The result is driving to work, having quote good schedules, and enjoying the Pacific freight business again.

As of this writing (mid-2014), I’m still fairly new at NCA. I’m sure I’ll come back and update this in due course of time. But for now, I’m enjoying the new job.
Intro – Document history, purpose, and introduction
History – How I got started – the story before the story
Comair Aviation Academy – Details about my time as a student and instructor at Comair Aviation Academy, now Delta Connection Academy
Comair Airlines – Information about flying for Comair Airlines
World Airways – Information about flying for World Airways (Updated May 27th, 2014)
Nippon Cargo Airlines – Information about flying for Nippon Cargo Airlines
Conclusion – A wrap up of the whole story

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