AIRTALK Episode 1: The Ark Driver
Updated: Sep 16
With our success at the ongoing "People In Aviation" series, we have decided to embark on another new aviation-episode series, where we do an in-depth interview with individuals across the entire aviation industry, from pilots to cargo handlers, to air traffic controllers to planespotters. In our inaugural episode of this series, we got a chance to meet Marc (@arkdriver), a pilot who flies on the venerable Queen of the Skies - the Boeing 747. At his request, we have kept his full name and the airline he works at unnamed.
A veteran flier of over 10 years, Marc previously flew on the Airbus A320 prior to upgrading to fly on the Boeing 747-400F. When asked about how the Queen of the Skies' handling capabilities, Marc had this to share:
"She is one of the last true conventional aircraft left, we joke about it being fly-by-wire; it's actual cables and pulleys instead of electrical wires that lets us control it! She is robust and a perfect workhorse for all conditions. On top of all that, she is a dream to fly, with no adverse handling tendencies, but having said that, you really do need to know what you're doing at all times, because she is fast."
As a cargo pilot, Marc's flights have covered almost every continent apart from Antarctica, even covering parts of South America on occasional charters. With numerous destinations checked off in what could be a very long bucket list for most of us, I asked Marc what his favourite destination was, rather surprisingly, his answer was : "Home, always home. Nothing beats a long hot shower and crawling into your own bed." Indeed upon further reflection of his answer, it does make sense. We view these destinations in the eyes of a traveler; however for pilots, traveling is part of the job, and when you have been hopping around the world for days, sometimes weeks on end, getting home is the one thing most pilots look forward to.
With thousands of flights logged worldwide, Marc shared that eventually, one will have to face the challenges of a difficult approach, and in his words, "...when the weather is bad, it tends to get the heart rate up". Recalling a particularly difficult approach into Anchorage: "...we were performing a night time visual approach into Anchorage with winds gusting well over 45 knots. That was a pretty sporty evening!" However, he remarked that no matter how challenging the approaches are, the main battle for most cargo pilots are their jet lag and fatigue, as they usually operate on tighter schedules than passenger flights and tend to operate regularly through odd hours, which is mitigated through “extra diligence and professional discipline”.
When we asked Marc about what kinds of cargo he has hauled, he shared:
"We tend to carry almost everything, from food and general cargo, and more recently, medical supplies and vaccines. I've also carried helicopters and zoo animals, so it's hard to say which is the most interesting. We once did a charter into New Zealand with almost 100 tonnes of green glass for making wine bottles - no idea why, but it was close to bottling season and maybe someone messed up their bottle order! "
Aside from being a cargo pilot, Marc is an avid car enthusiast, and when we asked about his passion for cars, he reminisced with nostalgia:
"I have had a love for both cars and planes since I was a little kid. In the early days it was all about souped up JDMs and driving around like our hair was on fire, but nowadays it's all about slowing the pace down and being comfortable. But who knows, I might be a midlife crisis away from something totally impractical!"
As any aviation enthusiast would, Marc likes to keep himself up to date with the upcoming trends and latest aviation news. With much global excitement about the development of the Airbus A350F and the Boeing 777-8F, we asked Marc to share his thoughts on the future of the air cargo industry when these two giants make their commercial debuts.
For the Airbus A350F, Marc shared that "it should be a game changer for freighter operating economics. The fuel burn is half that of the 744F, and it should carry 85-90% of the payload. Much as I'll be sad to see the 744F go, there's gotta be progress. As for the 777-8F, it looks to be a good platform for the role it's performing, and the routes have a few different destinations like Honolulu or Cincinnati, which would be a change of scenery. Let's see, if/when I head that way, I'll have more to say."
As for the new generation of Boeing 747 freighters, Marc admits that he hopes one day he would be allowed to fly on:
“The 747-8F by all accounts from my friends who fly it, is a dream, very similar to the -400F in almost all ways that matter to a pilot. It is robust and dependable, but I wonder if the economics make sense for a 4-engined freighter in the future. Still, I would look forward to an opportunity to fly it.”
The major airlines across the world continue to face significant manpower shortages in terms of competent pilots, as many of them have opted to leave the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. With many airlines now actively recruiting young cadets to enroll them into their pilot training programs, I’m sure many of our readers would like to hear about what motivates a pilot to join the industry and what keeps them going and loving their job. Hence we put that question across to Marc, and he shared this:
“This might be a little cliché, but the aspiration to fly began at an early age, but given the environment I grew up in, I never really thought it could become a reality. I was into many of the peripheral aspects; building scale models, reading and being inspired about the lives of early aviators; people like Charles Lindbergh, Ernest K Gann, Antoine de St Exupery, Roald Dahl, Adolf Galland, and so on. I never did take that step towards flying until much later on, when I told myself, "this is something I'd very much like to pursue, let me see how I can get started". I'd be less than truthful if I said that every day I get up raring to go. All of us have days where we'd rather be back in bed, or a disagreement with loved ones, or things that dampen our moods - we're all human afterall, but there's a moment when I am getting ready, putting on my uniform, and pinning on my wings, where my mind settles, and life outside of flying almost becomes a distraction that pauses, fades, and put away temporarily in a box. Then everything going forward is about the task at hand - flying. It really boils down to professional discipline and a commitment to do what is needed to get the job done as best as we can.”
And lastly, for aspiring aviators out there, he had this to share:
“Knowing what I know now about the career and the life, I'd have to say it's not quite what I thought it would be when I was just starting out. Aviation is more than just passion. A good aviator knows the rules, and beyond knowing, understands how and why these rules came to be, and how and when to apply this understanding. You need a lot of patience, determination, and resilience. Getting into flying is a long and continuous process, with lots of ups and downs. you have to learn to roll with the punches, it's ok to get knocked down, but more importantly, you need to get back up, and figure out how to not let it happen again. And you have to keep doing it until the last flight. We have a saying - if a pilot thinks he knows everything already about flying, it's time to quit flying. Decide what you want, and take the steps, one at a time, it doesn't matter if there are setbacks, just keep moving forward, and don't stop.”
With that, this brings our first AirTalk episode to a conclusion. This is our first foray into a new concept in what we hope one day will become a video interview. Do let us know in the comments below how this content works, and do share what else you would like us to cover in future episodes of “AirTalk” and “The People In Aviation”!