The career choice … again

I may be writing this a bit prematurely, but I think it’s better to think ahead and be prepared for what may come.

A little over two years ago, I started training on the DC-10 as a Captain. I’ll skip the details of the history, but I wouldn’t have come to the DC-10 if I would have been able to hold the MD-11 at the time I bid for the upgrade. I could have held it both before and after, but that one particular bid I could only hold the DC-10 and wound up stuck on it ever since.

My time on the DC-10 has been a mix of better and worse (compared to First Officer on the MD-11). The airplane itself has advantages (better to hand fly, and a flight engineer) and disadvantages (lousy nav systems, no automation, reliability issues, etc.). The flying hasn’t been as good and I’ve been relatively junior, moving from the middle of the pack at first down to bottom now. The pay has been good, and the heavy international PIC time is worth its weight in gold career-wise. All in all, though, I just haven’t enjoyed the job as much as I did before, schedule being the primary reason why. That said, I’m glad I did it for a some of the reasons listed above, and one more historical reason.

World Airways is now, I believe, the 2nd longest-time operator of the DC-10 in the history of the airplane. According to the Jetphotos Census, Northwest took delivery of their first DC-10 in November, 1972, and World Airways took delivery of their first DC-10 in March, 1978. Northwest operated the airplane longer than any of the other early customers, finally retiring their last DC-10 in January, 2007, for a total of just over 34 years of service. World still operates the DC-10 and has now for 32 consecutive years, just 2 years shy of Northwest’s record…. and counting! If anyone knows of any other longer-time operator, I’d be interested in hearing about it, but I think now we’re in the #2 spot.

Flying an airplane with that kind of history is, if nothing else, entertaining. It’ll make for great stories for the grandkids someday. I remember one of my early ground instructors who flew the Connie for Eastern Airlines. He was older than dirt and had some great stories. Ironically, there was a Connie parked at the Sanford Airport at the time I was in that ground school which was eventually restored and flew again. It turns out, that very Connie was leased to World Airways in the 1960’s. Small world, eh? But I digress…

I would say “rumor has it”, but it’s more than just rumor. Flight Operations management has been saying the plan is to park our remaining DC-10’s this year. We’ve been getting rid of DC-10’s for a lot of our 32 year history with the airplane, so we’ll see just how serious they really are. Whether they actually park the whole fleet or not, they do appear serious about parking the first airplane in June. When that happens, I’ll get kicked off the airplane.

Now, again, I’m likely to be faced with a choice. I don’t know yet what the plan is for the rest of the fleet. In fact, I don’t know if there’s anyone in the world who knows, but they certainly haven’t shared it with me. If I can hold MD-11 Captain, I’ll take that. If not, I’ll be downgraded to First Officer again. The choice I’ll have to make is whether to take First Officer on the MD-11 (a position I held for 7 years), or First Officer on the 747. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

The major advantage to the 747 is that it would involve a type rating on a new (to me) airplane that is fairly marketable to other airlines. If something happened to my job here, I might be more qualified for more other jobs if I had a 747-400 type rating in my back pocket. The downside is that we only have two airplanes, both freighters, and the schedules are awful. I’d be fairly senior, but seniority isn’t worth much when there aren’t any good schedules.

The MD-11 would be much easier for me. I’m already type rated on it, but due to the time I’ve been away, I’d have to do all the training over again. When I’m all checked out, I’d be fairly senior (though maybe not quite as high up, percentage-wise as the 747). With 14 airplanes (a mix of passenger and freight) and some really nice flying, I should be able to hold schedules that I’d really enjoy. The pay is the same for both airplanes.

So I’m torn. Looking back on my career so far, the times I most enjoyed my job were as a senior first officer, both here and at Comair. I don’t think the 747 will bring me that same level of satisfaction, but I’m sure the MD-11 will. On the other hand, better qualifications would be better for my career. I’m not in a position to retire yet (that’d make the choice easy), so I do need to be mindful of my career. That said, I’m not sure exactly how important that 747 type rating really is. I do know that I miss really enjoying my job. I haven’t been as happy with the work since coming to the DC-10, and I don’t think I would be as happy on the 747 as I would on the MD-11 just due to the lack of variety in the flying.

There’s no bid out yet so I have a little time to decide, but it appears very likely I’ll have to make this choice within the next 2-3 months. So… what do I do?


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2 Responses to The career choice … again

  1. justusgirlz says:

    There’s something to be said for doing what you love – this sounds like a question of varying degrees of how much you would love flying a 747 vs. the MD-11. You’re not *sure* what level of satisfaction the 747 will bring you – could be worse, even or better. – but you do love *flying*, and that counts for quite a bit, no? Also, it’s not just the job that you enjoy, but the perks you get from it – traveling the world, seeing new places, meeting new people and getting to sit in at jazz clubs, well, just about everywhere. Will these perks end or be very different based on the plane you fly? You say the schedules are awful for the 747 – how awful and in what way? how permanent is that?
    I know you haven’t been as happy flying the DC-10 – the question is – do you pass up the opportunity for free training on a new plane, expanding your experience and market-ability in the event that you need to look for a new job, or do you return to something you know you enjoy and hope that you can do that until you retire? What is better for you, and your family, in the long run as opposed to immediate gratification? I want you happy, that’s the most important thing – but how happy would you be in the future based on options and possible long-term outcomes?
    Lastly, if, say, you do go for the 747 and decide you are more miserable than a sludge cleaner in the sewers of New York, would you have the option to transfer back to the MD-11?

    • varrin says:

      Yes, flying is good. It’s not as though I’ve absolutely hated the DC-10. In fact, my hunch is that I’d like the actual flying part of the 747 better than the DC-10 overall. It’s the small fleet and lack of good flying that I’m not real thrilled about.
      as for the other perks, yes, that’s a big part of what would be better on the MD-11. Obviously things on the 747 *could* change. One airplane doing great flying would fix me right up. But so far there hasn’t been anything stable that impresses me. We just signed a 1-year contract with Asiana flying from Seoul to Los Angeles. Neither destination thrills me. Looks like the other airplane will be doing military cargo for at least a little while. Unless we get more airplanes, I’d expect it to be not very good for a long time.
      And I’m not sure it’s an “until I retire” kinda thing. If things go (very) poorly, I’ll be looking for a new job eventually. If they go very well, I’ll be back in the left seat before too long. Who knows how that’ll go. And as for going back, that’s a possibility but if I bid it, then I go into a freeze again. That could cause me to miss an upgrade and I’m not sure I want to do that. That said, I think it’s revealing that several of the early people to bid the 747 have now bid off it….

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