Aviation's Heart Beat. By Owen Zupp.

Within hours of each other I received two pieces of communication. One was a trainee pilot wondering if the long road ahead was worthwhile, while the other came from an experienced pilot rejoicing in the colours of a sunrise they had just witnessed. I paused before answering either and played the Devil's Advocate to both perspectives, for as much as I am passionate about aviation, I would not wish for the romance of flight to overwhelm the reality. Personally, I believe that the two are inextricably linked, but their significance often lies with the individual.

There are those aviators who fly solely for employment and look quizzically at any pilot who ventures near a small aircraft or an airfield on a day free of duty. Then there are those who are immersed in a range of aviation endeavours beyond the flight deck. Neither are right or wrong, they are merely different.

There is no hiding the fact that a fledgling aviation career can be a hard road. I often like it to a cardiac rhythm with a range of peaks and troughs as you seek to stay alive. The personal sacrifices can be great as the long slow ladder is climbed and any concept of a 'normal life' can be placed on hold as the nomadic search for flight hours is undertaken. Additionally, the financial burden of training can be great and the fiscal rewards relatively modest, particularly if an airline career is neither sought nor gained. And even that career has changed greatly in so many ways since I first started.

Personally, I never had any great expectations - I just wanted to fly. I had seen first hand the disappointment the career could deliver in my father's aviation journey. A decorated fighter pilot with vast experience in both civil and military spheres, I recall him being retrenched and driving cars onto the back of trucks at the Ford factory for a living at one time. He had left an airline career flying Super Constellations years earlier as the trips took him away from his young family for weeks at a time. Still he never regretted the decision. He retired with over 100 aircraft types in his log book and maintained his passion for flight until the end. I guess that I inherited that.

My expectations were also influenced by the years that I spent as a paramedic, learning to fly on my days free of duty. In those years I realised just how lucky one is to be healthy and simply able to pursue a career in aviation. The unjust nature of fate's cruel blows can devastate lives in an instant and I witnessed this so many times in the small hours, or beside some mangled wreck by the roadside.

By the time I finally gained employment as a pilot, I had a blank bank balance, but was appreciative of the chance to fly. Multi-skilling as a refueller, baggage handler, bus driver and aircraft cleaner didn't bother me in the slightest. Early starts and a few sick bags to clean up were insignificant hurdles compared to the burdens that I had seen in other people's lives. Long hot charter flights to some remote settlement or weaving my way around New Guinea with nothing but a map and a sandwich are memories that I cherish. From my point of view, I have always considered myself to be one of the lucky ones.

Still, the career has delivered disappointment. The relationships that couldn't survive the uncertainty and the devastating gut-wrenching blow of a failed check flight are memories that I'd rather forget. With nearly 15 years in the industry and 10,000 hours in my log book, my airline failed and I sat in the government employment office with no relevant skill set and a mortgage to pay. And when an airline job came along again, I started at the bottom of the seniority list and so began the slow climb once more.

So there is no sugar-coating it. It can be a long, hard road and there is no guarantee that the end result will be the one that you desire. If the sole desire is to sit at the helm of an airliner and nothing else will suffice, then tread with caution for the goal may elude you through no fault of your own. If the goal is to fly, enjoy the journey and be prepared to make the most of where the career takes you, then I'd sign up tomorrow.

As I pondered the two messages I could equally share the joy of the airline captain's amazing sunrise and the trainee pilot's trepidation. For me, there was never any doubt about the direction that I was heading and I accepted the highs and lows as they came my way as being part of the process. My life before aviation in the back of a speeding ambulance had taught me very valuable lessons in this way. I could read the trace of a heart beat and recognise the peaks and troughs of a normal heart's rhythm and never took it for granted.

Importantly, I also knew that the alternative was a flat-line and that there was no joy in that.

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