Grounded Pilots
Grounded Pilots

Australian Pilots Becoming Paramedics, Bus and Tram Drivers

The omnipresent pandemic has wreaked havoc on the Australian airline industry, causing massive job cuts and career devastation. In this article, we will explore creative and innovative ways that Qantas and Virgin Australia pilots have adapted to their wings being clipped (for now).

Saving Lives – Under the Sky

Captain Sean Golding was just 21 when he landed a dream job as a Second Officer for Qantas.

“That’s when I was flying the old 747s,” he told ABC News “And I’ve moved through various aircraft types: the 767, the A330.” Now, 31 years later, he is a Boeing 787-9 Captain and a flight simulator examiner.

Captain Golding’s illustrious career saw him as the Pilot in Command of Qantas‘ record-breaking Project Sunrise research flight, from New York to Sydney. However when COVID grounded Qantas’ flagship Dreamliners, he became a paramedic with New South Wales Health.

“I’m constantly thinking about my passengers when I’m on the aeroplane, just as I’m constantly thinking about the patient when I’m at the back of the patient transport vehicle”

Captain Sean Golding (via ABC News)
Both men sit in the cockpit of a Qantas plane.
Captain Sean Golding with First Officer Jeremy Sutherland onboard the Project Sunrise research flight

He had started training as a paramedicine five years ago, then two years ago he started casual work with a private ambulance service. Captain Golding recalls that his training took place in his “hotel room on layovers, and clinical experience on days off”.

Driven to help others, Captain Golding explains that “part of the Aussie spirit is just roll your sleeves up and get stuck into it”.

“One time I was a passenger on a flight and a woman started bleeding quite badly. I worked with an emergency doctor, who happened to be on board, to manage her condition with IV fluids to keep her stable until we landed.”

Captain Sean Golding

From Flying B737 to Riding the Rails

Melbourne’s streets are filled with trams, in fact the city of 5 million has the largest tram network in the world. When COVID forced Virgin Australia into voluntary administration, over 3000 jobs were cut. Whilst the grounded pilots can’t take to the skies just yet, their skills are proving incredibly valuable on Melbourne’s tram tracks.

Adam Snelgar and Phillip Tarquino were both Virgin pilots, they even flew together before the pandemic caused flights to be grounded. It was pure coincidence that they happened to bump into each other on their first day of training at Yarra Trams, they now both work out of Southbank Depot in Melbourne.

Adam has said that both rail and aviation share many of the same attributes, like commitment to safety and passengers, but the toughest challenge he has faced so far has been the terminology.

“I’ve had a couple times where I’ve pulled into the terminus, to switch ends, and then told passengers to vacate on the right-hand side of the aircraft!”

Adam Snelgar

Yarra Trams has also employed some of Virgin’s grounded flight attendants, who’s service skills are useful in customer-facing roles.

Driving Buses Instead of Planes

Dozens of pilots working for Australian airlines have taken up bus driving, in the face of lengthy groundings. Over twelve Qantas pilots, many of whom fly the Airbus A380, are now driving Sydney bus charters while they wait for the superjumbos to fly again.

Meanwhile, in Brisbane, ex-Qantas B787-9 Second Officer Chris Davis and ex-Jetstar B787-8 First Officer Clint Butcher have both started serving the community by bus.

Commentating to the local bus industry, Mr Davis said the rigorous safety and punctuality standards draw huge parallels between the two industries.

It’s really good to have secure employment, after being stood down, and not too many prospects in the aviation sector… The role of bus driving is a lot more face-to-face, though this is no different to previous roles that we’ve had as pilots in smaller aircraft.

Chris Davis
Grounded Pilots
Grounded Pilots – Chris Davis and Clint Butcher