Stories from the Sky Tanzania

“Is There Any Room Up Front?”: Co-Piloting in Tanzania

By on September 7, 2015


My Mum always tells me that whenever I board a plane I should ask to sit up front… I can’t say I have ever tried asking on a 14-hour Emirates flight but when I discovered that our small groups flight from Arusha to Zanzibar was a charter I had to try my luck…

Sometimes I swear I must be Irish. Or maybe my Mum is just always right… (Don’t tell her I said that though because I will never be able to disagree with her again).

IMG_7531Yep for 1 hour and 45 minutes I was a co-pilot in Tanzania. And how I had missed sitting in a cockpit!

But first I feel I should mention the check-in process at Arusha airport. Basically we all crammed in a small room where our luggage was piled up in the centre. We made our way one-by-one to a small desk where a lady would write our names on ‘boarding passes’ and send us on our way.

I’m kind of glad bigger airports have more formal systems because I worry enough about lost luggage without the precarious pile system.

After we had all had our boarding passes written out we were told the pilot had arrived early so we could leave early if we liked…

Nothing is ever early in Africa.

Surely enough by the time we had cleared ‘security’ and waited in the ‘waiting area’ (AKA some seats lined up next to the tarmac and runway) our estimated departure time had been and gone.

IMG_7513We watched the airport ‘porters’ stand around with our luggage for a while as they seemingly tried to fit it all on random aircraft on the tarmac. Apparently at Arusha airport you don’t need to be on the same plane as your clean underpants. And that just makes me nervous.

Eventually we were called over to the aircraft. A neat looking Cessna caravan. They told us that eight people could board the first one… No eight people in particular… Just whoever… I hope they test dental records well in Tanzania…

We were about to board when I popped the question. I felt like I should be on one knee to make the moment as romantic as it felt but apparently that was unnecessary because I was led to the cockpit straight away. The door was opened… “Hop in!”

I now know how nervous boyfriends feel when they hear the word “yes”.

The captain hopped in quickly and briefly told us the flight time and joked about inf light entertainment up front. Then his headset was on almost immediately… Unfortunately before I could ask if there was a spare lying around…

IMG_7537But being up front was enough. Admiring the flight controls and witnessing the beauty that is flying a Cessna was good enough for me.

The flight path was very simple and I discovered our pilot was not joking about entertainment up front. He had propped up his phone along the controls and the two of us were able to watch snippets of ‘The Avengers’ while he ate his lunch…

I guess that is the reality of Island flying…

Our approach into Zanzibar was foggy but snippets of crystal clear water and white sand beaches cut through the clouds making all on board excited about ending our camping safari and turning in our hiking boots for bare feet on the beach.

After a perfect landing our pilot took off his headset. Literally straight after landing. Apparently no taxi calls are necessary in Zanzibar and in the words of our pilot you just ‘park wherever’.

I don’t think Parafield Airport in Adelaide would be too happy with me if I landed and decided to ‘park wherever’, but I guess Adelaide isn’t a tropical island…

I must admit that the thing I am missing most while travelling is spending early mornings at the airport, flying little Cessna’s, but having the opportunity to experience a couple of hours in the life of a Tanzanian charter pilot was right up there with hot air ballooning over the Serengeti, (well, about 12,000′ higher actually)…



About Me

Kat Knapp

Hello! I am a 22-year old Australian currently training to be a pilot and studying journalism and sociology I have visited 69 countries across all 7 continents and love to explore. Here is where I share my adventures.