“It’s a massive and powerful machine!” exclaims SWISS Captain Conradin Volland. Just over a year ago he was flying the Airbus A320 family around Europe. We’re still in that airspace today as we head for Prague on this stormy June evening. But the Boeing 777-300ER whose cockpit we’re sitting in weighs over 350 tonnes fully laden – almost five times as much as an A320. SWISS has ordered nine of the long-haul twin-jets, which will gradually replace part of the present Airbus A340 fleet over the next two years.
Conradin Volland knew he wanted to be a pilot when he was just 14 years old. Two years later he took off on his first hang-gliding flight. While his boyhood ambition still keeps him more than satisfied, Conradin, who’s now 48, decided while he was still a first officer that he wanted to be a flying instructor, too. And for several years he helped the pilots of the SWISS Airbus fleet to make the transition from first officer to captain. It was a role in which his personal and social skills proved just as valuable as his technical knowledge and abilities. “I love interacting with so many different people in such a dynamic working environment,” he explains. And alongside the variety that it brings to his work, he also appreciates the fact that his training activities mean he can spend many an evening at home. “Though not always to the delight of my 17-year-old son,” he adds with a grin.
Conradin started his conversion training onto the Boeing 777-300ER last spring. But this experienced captain will frequently be found on one of the cockpit jump seats, too – as he is today, when, in his instructor’s capacity, he’s on hand to advise and assist First Officer Christian Daisenberger and Captain David Jäggi in their new workplace.
Just six minutes after take-off, we’ve already reached a flight level of 7,000 metres. “It’s amazing the power this plane has in the climb,” Conradin remarks. The two pilots calmly steer their aircraft through the clouds, as if it were child’s play. The summer storms pose no surprise: David and Christian have already discussed what alternate airports they could use if they find a storm cell hanging right above their destination as part of their pre-flight preparations. “The Triple Seven is really direct and logical,” Conradin enthuses. “The controls feel so good in your hands. I’m already looking forward to my next rotation: in a few days I’ll be off to Los Angeles!”
The motivation and the delight in being part of the new SWISS “Triple Seven Family” and flying this 74-metre-long aircraft is palpable with David and Christian, too, as they maintain constant contact with the air traffic controllers on the ground and monitor the flight and their instrument displays. They seem extremely familiar with it all, even though they’ve only been flying the 777 for the past two months. Teamwork par excellence! Conradin seems to agree, judging by the frequent nods and thumbs-ups that he gives as he makes his notes for the post-flight debriefing. “It’s really exceptional, and really heartening, to see and feel our 777 pilots helping and supporting each other through their highly intensive conversion training course,” he says. “There’s an incredible exchange among them – something I’ve never experienced before to this degree in my 25 years in the cockpit.”
Flying evidently holds as much appeal to Conradin now as it did when he was 14. He enjoys the layovers – the time spent at the destination – which can be of up to three days, and which give him the chance, for instance, to indulge in some fresh-air sporting activities. But he also still clearly loves his time aloft. As our flight returns from Prague to Zurich, a golden-glowing sun slowly sinks below the clouds. Do moments like this ever become routine? “Never!” is his unequivocal reply.
Text: Valérie Ziegler / Photos: Jen Ries