Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Good and The Bad

Being an airline pilot is one of the best jobs in the world. Imagine having an office with a perfect view of Mount Kinabalu at 18000feet above sea level. You get to fly multi-million dollar piece of equipments and fly to destinations others only dream of. Once in a while, you even get to rub shoulders with the rich and famous.

Sitting in my office one evening, looking at the spectecular view, I ponder about the other side of the job. The one where critics dont evaluate in a pilot's life. Working with an airline company entails us to work shifts. Nothing unusual about that as many other jobs requires working in shifts too. But add in another factor and it becomes a different kind of ball game. The NIGHTSTOP factor....

The publics perception of an airline pilot is fly, booze, fornicate. There is some truth about it as most in the know can tell you. But before you join the large group of critics out there, you must understand the real scenario behind how it end up like this. As a pilot, the job requires us to fly alot and we're often required to go on nightstop ranging from single night stop to sometimes up to 4-5 nights away. Coming back from a lenghty 5 days trip, most probably will earn us a 2 days off. Sound pretty good. But, imagine the airport being a distance from home. Imagine the jetlag experienced by the widebody crew. Imagine the rest needed and recovery time... 2 days?

Okay, I can hear some critics crying out now saying that it's comes with the job. Fine. Fair enough. But let put in the family factor. Let's now say Pilot X has a family with 2 young kids. Now the situation gets worse. Imagine having to grow up with mommy most of the time as daddy is busy flying and probably only sees daddy 8 days a month, the rest of the days being away on nightstops. Young kids need their parents to be there for them especially when their young. Just imagine the side effects affecting the children and his family life. Just the right recipe needed for a family arguement, which could easily lead to dispute and eventually a break-up, with the children again having to face the consequences. Just imagine that.

Again I still can hear faint cries from critics, saying that its part of the job and thats why we're being paid highly. Again, another good arguement. Fair enough. But! Sometimes money is not everything in life. Sometimes what is more needed is the offdays. The rest periods. The much needed family time. Even if money is a factor, some airlines offer salaries which are below the market value. And normally when pilots demand more out of the company, the critics AGAIN come in and cry out foul as if pilots are being paid too much. I always say that we are paid too much because we have NO LIFE! No weekends, No public holidays, No family time and sometimes Unapproved Annual Leave due crew constrains.

So, now you critics out there, tell me. Is this justified? All a pilot wants is a balanced work and off days and to be paid on par as their counterparts overseas. Thats all. Is that too hard to ask for?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Winds of Change...

Having been flying a lot lately, I was looking forward to a two day break. Wanting to get away from Kota Kinabalu, we decided to go to the Tip of Borneo, nearby Kudat. The journey would take about 3 hours from Kinabalu one way. Initially we wanted to start out as early as possible, but heavy rain almost cancelled our plans! We however decided to go ahead hoping the weather will improve later on. This was not the case but it didn't turn out too bad as well. We reached the Tip at around two in the afternoon. The wind was picking up speed making the swell bigger than usual. We manage to reach the Tip albeit the challenging winds. Standing there looking at the power of Mother Nature, my mind wonders off again towards aviation, this time, the recent Air Mandala crash in Medan, Indonesia.

Just when I said three posts ago that flying was still safe, the latest incident further deepens the wound inflicted by the past four incidents affecting my profession. As a professional pilot, its not unusual to hear of accidents and incidents and we all take it as a possibility and we are all trained for the unexpected. But after five accidents in two months, the stats are starting to look a little bit scary. Lately, rumours on aircraft reliability and maintenance/safety standards of some particular airlines are in question. Authorities believe that some airlines, particularly budget airlines (not to be taken in a negative manner), are not complying with strict maintenance and safety standards. I have seen and heard of airlines operating without any regard for safety, even though their company policy stresses on this matter. For example, old aircrafts aged 10-15 years or more. Its not the age that really matters to a pilot. Its how well the aircraft is serviced and maintained.

Maintenance plays a very important role in ensuring safety standards are kept. Aircraft engineers are responsible for the maintenance of aircraft. However, airline companies sometime dont spend money on important maintenance upgrades such as refurbishing or overhaul. This in turn will pose a safety hazard towards operations of the aircraft. Especially now with the cost-cutting measures some companies are implementing (primarily due to increase in oil prices), the management might overlook the safety aspect of a well maintained aircraft. I hope this will never be the case as we have lost one too many lives in the past two months.

(p.s. - In Memory of Lives lost during the terror attacks of 9/11)

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Misadventures of Alvyn and the Chipmunk!

Lately, I've been assigned as Safety Co-Pilot on a couple of line training flights as new cadets arrive Kinabalu. Whats that you may ask? Basically, its observing the flight so that nothing is missed out, as it could easily happen when the Captain is busy instructing the cadet. And ofcourse if for any reason the cadet is uncapable to fly, the Safety will take over. It may sound easy, and infact it is, because most of the time you just sit and observe. It can also get pretty boring. Some use this opportunity to give back knowledge and experience they have received during their line training as well as line flying. Being a cadet on line training is not a bed of roses. Training has and will always be like that. A cadet needs that support to show him/her the way to improve and understand the concept of flying the particular aircraft.

I've been interested in flying since I was young. Most of my books are aviation related and can normally sit down flying Flight Simulator for hours. Then, along came Alvyn, my classmate during my primary school days. His dad, a Captain on the Fokker 50, is still flying today. We we're so into flying that we even wanted to build our own aircraft. Still it was fun. Finished secondary school, I did my two semesters at a local college. Alvyn was hangin around helping out with family business. Still I'll find time to meet up and talk about stuff. It was good fun.

After my second semester in college, I didnt do that well and was thinking of switching colleges or doing something else even. At that moment, Alvyn was about to enter flying school and ask me to join him. I was hesitant at first, but eventually gave it a try. And the rest is history...
Now we work for the same airline, fly the same fleet and based at the same base. To me its like a second chance to do something I really wanted to do since I was young. The best part was I got to do it with a close friend....