Crystal Zwicker grew up in Hyde Creek and started flying airplanes when she was 17.
“I completed my private licence in Campbell River (50 hours flight time),” said Zwicker, adding that after she graduated high school she was accepted into Okanagan University-College’s aviation program, where she obtained her Commercial licence and multi-engine and instrument rating (two years and 200 more hours).
After graduating from the aviation program, Zwicker found her first flying job was “very hard to get. I had to work for free for a little bit.”
Undeterred, she started flying a Cessna 185 on floats doing charters in Victoria, before landing a contract in northern Ontario flying to fishing camps with the Cessna 185, which she did for one year.
“I returned to Victoria to work in an aircraft maintenance shop, and during the winter I was offered a job flying the deHavilland Beaver (DHC-2) in northern Ontario for the company that I had previously been flying the Cessna 185 for,” said Zwicker, adding that she flew the Beaver “for three years in northern Ontario during the summer while also working in the maintenance shop during the winter in Victoria.”
During this period she accumulated approximately 1,500 hours, total time.
“My next stop was a multi-engine job for Carson air, flying a Metroliner out of Vancouver on cargo runs for DHL. I worked there for two years and then transferred to Kelowna to fly the B.C. air ambulance for the same company, Carson Air King air 350 (total time 3,600 hours).”
In November 2010 she was hired by Air Canada in the first ground school of their hiring wave, and to date she has accumulated “a total of over 8,000 hours.”
After 15 years of flying planes, she’s currently flying Air Canada’s brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliners out of Vancouver.
“I’ve been flying the 787s for the last year and a half now,” said Zwicker. “They’re brand new, and the big airplanes have always been my favourite.”
She started out at Air Canada flying the older 767s, which were built in the 1980s in Seattle at the Boeing plant, but when most of the 767s were moved over to Air Canada Rouge as a low cost carrier, she “didn’t want to do domestic flights, I wanted to continue flying overseas.”
Currently, there are almost 150 Dreamliner pilots in Vancouver alone. “We have a number of planes, and pilots can only fly about 85 hours a month,” said Zwicker, adding that it takes quite a few pilots to crew an airplane route.
Compared to the 767, the 787 has extremely fuel-efficient engines and is made of carbon fibre composite materials, which makes it quieter and lighter than other similar-sized planes.
“The lighter you can get an airplane the better,” said Zwicker, while also stating that the 787 can probably go “one third farther than the 767 while using 20 per cent less fuel. It carries more passengers and is great on the environment.”
For Zwicker, the most important thing about the 787 is that she can now fly at higher altitudes.
“The 767 could reach 36,000 feet, but with the 787 we’re flying up at 40,000-41,000. The higher you go the better fuel economy you get. It also gives you the option to go over weather obstacles.”
She added that the plane has so much power that “right after takeoff you can climb to your cruising altitude. The 787 is really good for cabin pressure as well. You feel more rested, and the passengers are getting a lot more oxygen.”
While she is currently about to go on maternity leave, Zwicker noted that she will definitely be back flying airplanes in about a year and her favourite thing about the job is “getting to fly overseas to places like Asia and Australia, seeing the sights, and then coming back home.”