Pandemic pivot:                  Seat swap for Steve

January 17th, 2021Pandemic pivot: Seat swap for Steve

AS THE the events of the year 2020 played themselves out across the world, perhaps one of the most visual manifestations of its far-reaching effects was the sight of dozens of aircraft lined up at disused airports across the world. Grounded almost instantly as international and domestic travel ground to a halt when borders closed, it was certainly not a good time to be holding your life savings in airline company stock.

And if you were one of those hundreds of air crews normally at work flying the air routes of the world you would have been left with little more to do than twiddle your thumbs at home, wondering when the whole nightmare was going to end. One of those affected by this catastrophic shutdown was Fern Hill resident and Jetstar international pilot Steve Peirce.
Steve began his working career with an apprenticeship at the old Victorian State Electricity Commission as a linesman but soon decided to train as a pilot at Melbourne’s Moorabbin airport around 1985. By the 1990s he had worked in Saudi Arabia and in Australia’s top end doing charter flights and regular public transport routes from Darwin to Alice Springs and countless places in between.

Eventually he went to Sydney to work for a company called Impulse Airlines which, after being bought out by Qantas, soon evolved into Jetstar. He has remained with them ever since and by March 2020 was flying Boeing 787 Dreamliners out of Melbourne on international routes across Asia and the Pacific including Thailand, Vietnam, China, South Korea, Japan and Hawaii. But then suddenly, everything stopped.
“When COVID hit, like all my other colleagues, I was officially stood down. You’d imagine somebody with the nous of Alan Joyce (current CEO of Qantas, parent organisation of Jetstar ) was going to move quickly on these things and he did. We were all stood down within a matter of a week or so.”
Since Steve had been working at Jetstar for many years, the break was a means of using up his accumulated leave and he was quite happy to just sleep in and work around the house and in the garden.
But when it was clear the down time was going to drag on longer, Steve thought he’d better get out from under his partner Rose’s feet and find something to do. He approached his neighbour and good friend Steve Manifold, owner of waste disposal business Skip Hire Group based at Lauriston who was happy to give him a few hours a week driving his trucks which Steve continues to do currently.

“I enjoy driving the trucks, I’m seeing parts of the area I have never seen before, all those little towns and side roads. Getting out and about has raised my awareness of what we’ve got on our own back door.
“There are a lot of people who are taken aback when I say I’m a garbo and it’s not just me, I’ve got colleagues who are out there driving Coles delivery vans and stacking shelves at Woolies. But just because we are pilots it does not mean we are too good to do certain types of jobs. We will do whatever we have to, to make a living just like everyone else.”
While international air travel remains greatly truncated, there is clearly change just over the horizon. Just prior to Christmas Jetstar employees were made aware the company was going to “stand up” a selection of international crew and operate them on domestic routes.
In case people don’t realise, it is not a matter of just stepping back on the tractor for these highly specialised workers. Standing up crews is intended to ready them for their return to commercial flights and entails an array of preparatory tasks including ground courses, simulator training and training in the aircraft before resuming.
“They are planning to stand us up for the Easter peak,” Steve says. “Each crew will work one week on with several weeks off to rotate the flying around (sharing limited domestic routes). That will keep us all current and when international borders open up, we will be good to go.”

Above, captains photographed on the flight deck of a Boeing Dreamliner, from left to right, Peter Terrill, Anthony Hallebone, Kester Van Ass and Steve Peirce
Image: Contributed

Centre, Steve Peirce working the bins at Skip Hire Group
Image: Tony Sawrey

Words: Tony Sawrey

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