A Viennese waltz in the cockpit

Lufthansa Cargo pilots are gaining practical flight hours on the B777 by flying Austrian Airlines passengers throughout the world. We accompanied Steffen Tharandt to New York

Red ties, silver epaulettes – all pilots at the head office of Austrian Airlines (AUA) wear the same uniform. But one of them is operating incognito – Steffen Tharandt, actually a Lufthansa Cargo MD-11F captain. He blends in seamlessly with staff at the Austrian airline, except for his “High German” which quickly stands out against the lilting Austrian tones of his colleagues.

“As part of a Group-wide common training platform, we are helping future Lufthansa Cargo B777F pilots with their training on the new aircraft type”, said Manfred Samhaber, B777 Fleet Chief at Austrian Airlines and project manager for operational training. With AeroLogic’s “Triple Seven” pilots already having been trained in 2008, AUA has a great wealth of experience in this regard. It doesn’t matter that the practical flight hours are being gained on a passenger version of the “Triple Seven” as the cockpit equipment in the freight-only version is largely the same.

Even though Tharandt has helpful experience in flying passengers, it’s still a big change after all these years in Cargo to be interacting with a cabin crew and passengers again during a flight. “You quickly get used to it just being the two of you in an MD-11F cockpit”, smiled Tharandt. Still, he gives a confident crew briefing to the flight attendants before they go on board to greet the passengers.
“I would like to welcome our guests!” This is something the Lufthansa Cargo pilot hasn’t had to say in his last 13 years in the cockpit, the length of time he has been flying our freighters all over the world. A chef appears in the cockpit, handing out menus to the pilots. This is a special kind of encounter for Tharandt. “The in-flight chef boards wearing a normal flight attendant uniform. Then he changes his clothes and prepares the food for the Business Class guests and for us pilots”, he explained. This service is “a nice change from the self-service on the Eleven”.

Suddenly the purser reports a problem in the second galley. Fluid is dripping from the ceiling due to a blocked drain. After inspection, the technical staff is radioed. Tharandt is helping to find a solution and suddenly the sounds of a Viennese waltz – the AUA’s hold music – fill the cockpit.

You immediately notice something during the flight – the rapport between the pilots is really good, and the guests from Germany are welcome cockpit partners. “We’re a small fleet, you get to know every one of the pilots. So it’s a breath of fresh air having a Lufthansa Cargo pilot in the cockpit”, explained Helmut Haubenwaller, a B777 captain and the co-pilot on this flight. The German colleagues “have fitted in perfectly with us”. This is also clear from the landing in New York, which the Lufthansa Cargo/AUA team execute perfectly.

In spite of his pleasant trip with Austrian Airlines, Steffen Tharandt is pleased to return to Cargo. However, he will still have to suppress a little tear at the end of the month. His type rating for the MD-11F will actually run out at the end of October 2013, the month in which Lufthansa Cargo is expecting its first B777F.