Two’s company

Following 15 years of the MD-11F fleet being an “only child”, Lufthansa Cargo is now flying a two-fleet operation.

Fokko Doyen and Dirk Vogel share many things – a love of flying, enjoyment of their work in Lufthansa Cargo flight operations and, since recently, the same position and office as well. Doyen has been Fleet Chief at Lufthansa Cargo for seven years already, a title he has had all to himself for that time. Now it belongs to Vogel too.


Even though the B777F fleet only consists of two aircraft at the moment, and five by 2015, the pilots flying this type will have their own Fleet Chief – Captain Dirk Vogel. “There’s no way this could have been left in the one pair of hands”, explained Doyen, who is responsible for the some 400 MD-11F pilots. “The technology of the ‘Triple Seven’ and the way it is flown differs so greatly from the MD-11F that somebody flying this specific aircraft type had to fill the position.” Having been a training pilot for many years, Vogel was the perfect candidate for this work, especially with a completely new fleet having to be built up. 


Both fleet chiefs are responsible for disciplinary management of the pilots. “This may sound like you’re always the bogeyman, but gladly that’s rarely the case”, explained Doyen. Mainly, the fleet chief is someone the pilots can come to if they have worries, are in distress or have something to celebrate. Therefore, empathy is important for the role. “Whether it’s family problems, health issues or an incident while flying, we have to remain receptive and respond with an eye to the solution. Nobody benefits from a troubled pilot”, noted Vogel. That is why he believes it is essential for a fleet chief to also be a pilot himself. He feels it would be difficult for an outsider to put themselves in a pilot’s position in the specific circumstances. 


Even someone without a pilot’s licence can quickly tell that when Vogel and Doyen speak about their work there is a great deal of trust. Trust that can’t have materialised overnight. “I remember exactly how I came to know Dirk”, laughs Doyen, “I ran a seminar for new MD-11F pilots. Suddenly one of the aspiring captains interrupted me and said that my information wasn’t quite correct. That was Dirk, and I have to admit it – he was right!” The younger man from Lower Saxony worked from the beginning to earn his older colleague’s professional and personal respect and has never lost that.

Both are sure that they can only benefit from the close cooperation. Although they both have a deputy and other colleagues from flight operations supporting them, it is still different to have someone in a similar situation with whom you can discuss things. “I am looking forward to no longer having to handle sometimes difficult issues all on my own and being able to work together on a solution in the future”, emphasised Doyen.


Captain Vogel and Captain Doyen: both Fleet Chiefs – same title, same office – but the work couldn’t have been more different to date. “Initially I was a fleet chief without a fleet for almost a year; that did feel a bit odd”, smiled Vogel. It would be a mistake to think that he had nothing to do because of that. His colleague Doyen knows full well: “An introduction involves an incredible amount of work. Training the crews, producing the manuals, coordinating with training partners. It’s both demanding and exciting.”  With the newly commenced scheduled operation of the first two B777Fs, both are enjoying the positives that come from a doubling-up of the fleet chief position: “We are noticing that there are many synergies we can use to our advantage – I don’t have to reinvent the wheel”, explained Vogel. Much of Doyen’s experience is benefitting the 46-year-old. Information on the specifics of destinations, routes and airports applies to both fleets. 


Both believe it’s a plus to be working out of the same room, which actually only came to pass because of limited space in building 420. After all, pilots are well used to sharing an office: “Our cockpits are also always manned by at least a two-person crew”, smiled Vogel.