This was the exact screening point that the crew of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went through at KLIA on their way to the aircraft 9M-MRO and they never came back. I took this photo on the morning of February 10 on the way to Hong Kong. A bit of a sad feeling as I went through the same gate...that CCTV image shown on various media outlets of the crew going through this screening gate came to my mind. I interviewed two of the staff (one of them is the Malay lady in the hijab in the photo), who both remember that moment of speaking to the crew and saying goodbye. When I spoke to them, they were still affected by their loss.
I guess most Malaysians still are. Even in Langkawi -where the co-pilot gained his flight training-if you speak to the taxi drivers or some of the restaurant owners, they recall the happy times of meeting him and his family. There are still signs and posters saying things like "Hope MH370 come back".
My mate, James Nixon quite rightly says (I quote):
"Airports are our homes. Their workers our extended families. The camaraderie of the players, from cleaners and the ladies at the canteens where we grab meals between flights, to the check-in staff and gate agents; we all have small but meaningful friendships with the people we see everyday of our working lives. When one crew doesn't come back we feel incomplete."
May god bless the crew and passengers of MH370...you are still in our hearts. Respect.
Sorry photo is blurry because I quickly took this one with my iPhone and did not focus on quality (I should have done!), as did not want to hold passengers standing behind me in the waiting line.
My wife and I would like to give a special thanks to Hong Kong based Passenger Services Officer, Ms. Koyi Wong from Cathay Dragon. After our flight was delayed from Shanghai Pudong to Hong Kong, we evidently ended up missing the HKG-KUL flight as well. Ms. Koyi Wong went out of her way to help us get not only onto our next flight, but also to make sure that our luggage arrived safely onto our next flight from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi (which was with Malaysia Airlines on a different ticket).
Koyi is a customer service professional extraordinaire, and in all my travels so far I have never come across an airline personnel who genuinely goes out of their way to help passengers. If it was not for her, we would have missed our flight to Langkawi from KL and it would have occurred us extra charges and delays etc. She deserves a special mention in your company newsletter or similar communication materials and I hope she can become more successful in her career and life. There are some truly amazing people in the aviation industry and Ms. Koyi Wong is definitely one of them. Amazing human. I did not take her photo, but here is a photo of her badge, which she quite rightly deserves to wear with sheer pride. People like Koyi ALL work for airlines (except for the ones who work in hospitals...or ambulances...or rescue helicopters etc.). My hats off.
Airline pilots are apparently trained not to spill drinks while in-flight. Interestingly, after our flight was delayed by nearly three hours (they like to avoid the insurance claims, so the delays are always just below three hours!), these chaps were in such a rush to get me to my wedding in Yangzhou that we ended up spilling the drinks in-flight!
I first met James on an Emirates A380 flight from Dubai to London Heathrow (Callsign ‘EK003 heavy’- click here to view the review of that flight) in 2011. He was our Senior First Officer and was kind enough to take a few photos for me from the flight deck using my camera (my camera was allowed in, but not I!). We had an amazing crew on that flight, and the senior purser was a good bloke. Upon hearing that I was a photographer and journalist, he replied “Oh, our senior pilot is also a photographer and author- let me speak to him and see if he can lend you his book”. The guy gave me his book for the whole flight…best in-flight reading I have ever done! After we landed at a windy Heathrow, the senior purser (who somehow also doubled as a good salesman), asked me “So, what do you think? Would you like to buy it?” I burst into laughter….I thought it was a free gift from James!
Ever since that flight, we have been good mates. I can say that he comes across as a very friendly and customer-focused person- which is a rare to find in the aviation industry these days. Reading his blog posts and his Facebook posts, you get the feeling that he is a true aviator and not just a pilot- he calls his planes girlfriends…I mean, you can’t really get much more love out of your job than that! He makes you wish you were a pilot, even if you are not into aviation and even if you have no love for planes whatsoever! James has always provided me with great advice about flying and I have cherished that advice. We met again in Dubai in 2015. This time he was preparing for his simulator test for his command course on the Airbus A380. It was at that time that he told me of his retirement plans. I was quite sad and surprised to hear it.
James’ last flight, EK407, was on the 24th of September from Melbourne (MEL) to Dubai (DXB) on aircraft registration A6-EDY, arriving early in the morning in Dubai. I cannot begin to imagine what he must be going through at this time, knowing that he will never fly ever again. His career has been nothing short of an exemplary one for those who want to enter the challenging but rewarding world of aviation.
He will be writing books in his retirement on subjects related to aviation (while downing a few well-deserved daiquiris in Boracay, no doubt!). Click here to read a review I wrote for one of his books in sleeping for pilots and other insomniacs!
In his own words, just before this last commercial flight out of Melbourne for Dubai, the great Melbournian said on Facebook: “They say pilots only love the plane they're flying ... And they remember only two flights, the last one they did and their first solo. Thanks, Peter Nelson, for sending me solo in 1985 ... Will never forget it!”.
After a remarkable career of thirty-one and a half years that many can only dream of having, I am sure he will be yearning to fly again soon! Mate, you are really an inspiration to many and it has been an absolute pleasure to know you as a mate. Here’s cheers to a very well-deserved and happy retirement!
Below is a recording of James' interview on Melbourne's Radio 3AW with Darren James
On 3 August 2016, a Boeing 777-300 aircraft, registration A6-EMW, belonging to Emirates Airline, was operating a scheduled passenger flight, numbered EK521, and departed Trivandrum International Airport (VOTV), India at 0506am local time for Dubai International Airport (OMDB), the United Arab Emirates (UAE). At approximately 0837am local time, the aircraft impacted the runway during an attempted go-around at Dubai. There were a total of 300 people on-board the aircraft, comprising of 282 passengers, two flight crew members, and 16 cabin crew members. However, the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) was very sad to announce that one of the firefighters lost his life while saving the lives of the others.
Jassim Isa Al Balushi managed to rescue 300 lives, but in doing so, he lost his own. The brave firefighter sustained fatal injuries after helping put out the flames during rescue operations, the report said. His valiant efforts, however, were not in vain, as everyone on board escaped from the burning jet alive—including 282 fliers and 12 cabin staff. Once everyone evacuated, the aircraft exploded and burst into flames and Al Balushi was unfortunately caught in the blaze.
The initial report into the incident has shown the pilot had tried to abandon the landing after the main wheels of the Boeing 777-300 had already touched down.
When such accidents happen, it is always best to wait for the investigators to do their job and publish the report, rather than listen to so many so-called 'aviation experts' on the TV and the internet because most of them are just guessing and have little or no idea on what the truth of the matter is.
The official Preliminary Report has been published by the GCAA of the UAE. Click here to get it from their official website.
There are no simple answers to these questions. Becoming an airline pilot has never been easy in any time in history. Back in the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s, many major airlines around the world were investing heavily in the recruitment and training of future airline pilots by providing fully sponsored cadet pilot schemes, where the airlines would provide financial support, and the only requirement from the student was to pass all the rigorous selection tests and be medically fit. Effectively, this job- which is no longer the glamorous job it used to be with airline pilots being referred to as "glamorous bus drivers" - is very tough to get and equally tough to stay in.
However, since the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001, and the global economic crisis, the vast majority of airline companies have cut back on providing a fully sponsored cadet pilot scheme. Instead, most would-be pilots have to either take a bank loan, or invest at least £120,000 to gain the frozen Airline Transport Pilot's License (ATPL) with around 200 hours, after which there is NO guarantee of a job.
Back in the 80s and 90s, all you had to do was get your frozen ATPL, and then the airline would provide the extra type-rating and training for you to get you to become a first-officer on your chosen aircraft type. Simply put, to become an airline pilot these days requires a huge financial investment, and without a guaranteed job at the end of it. That's assuming you pass the medical exams, and all the other theory and practical exams first time around (some of the best airlines require at least 90% in all exams), and if you don't pass them then that can go against you). One of my mates has just started studying for his flying at the age of 28 (which is fine as he will be around 31/32 by the time he qualifies for his first job), and another mate has started flying for the first time at the age of 45 (!).
Being 36 now, I personally would not do it, simply because of the huge amount of commitment, personal sacrifices and risks (both financially and personally) one has to take. If you are in a relationship or married with kids, then it is even more of a challenge. Some do manage it. A friend who was a doctor did a career change at the age of 39- she got the ATPL licence at the age of 41, and started working for Wizz (Hungarian airline) at the age of 43 after forking out around £150,000 of her money without a loan to get where she wanted to be.
1. First and foremost, pass your medical (must have an ATPL Class 1 medical) and pass all your 14 theory exams
2. Have at least a budget of around £120,000 to cover the 18 months course (including accommodation, exam fees, food and lifestyle costs. If you have to re-take the exams or if you take a modular course then the costs can be higher). It is probably cheaper in the US, Canada and Australia
3. In the UK, Oxford Aviation Academy and CTC Aviation are the best schools (highly respected and acclaimed by many global airlines)
4. Don’t do it just becase of the money- because flying is not the same as it used to be back in the 1970s/80s. You’ll be flying many more hours and for less pay for many years.
One of my mates has spent at least £180,000 over the course of four years to get his hours and type rating himself, and now works as a Second Officer for Cathay Pacific Airways- and with no home and no family at the age of 35. The bottom line is, only get into this career if you truly believe that flying is for you and nothing else should matter. Be prepared to sacrifice everything, and I mean everything and anything (plus you need support from your family, too).
If, however, you work for a government backed airline, such as a state-owned carrier (i.e. Air India, Air China etc.), then you may consider it a job for life- BUT if you fail your medical or your simulator checks then that is the end of your flying career.
Here is sound advice I got from one highly experienced airline Captain who has been flying for nearly 30 years:
"First things first - get your medical exam done before anything else. If you don’t have a Class 1 medical certificate, then there is no point carrying on. It is highly recommended that you get an ATPL-level medical as that is more detailed. Most people don’t, and it’s much stricter than CPL or PPL.
Secondly, to get the required 1,500 hours after gaining your flying license, that is a LOT and you will most likely need to spend your own money if an airline is not sponsoring you! You couldn’t do anywhere near that AND the ATPL subjects. I barely do 1,500 hours in TWO years on the Airbus A330 (Duty times are limiting on back of clock operations).
If you started at 34, for example, I would recommend doing ALL the theory exams before wasting more than 50 hours flying…too many people make the mistake and it drags out for years.
18 months full-time at, say, Oxford Aviation Academy or CTC (the BEST you can get) would get you a frozen ATPL licence and not even 200 hours I think.
Then you have to get hours to build up to 1,500 hours. Who is going to hire you versus a 23-year-old who they can bond to give years of service in exchange for a cadet-ship? So you really have too suss out the market, and KNOW before you start, where you are going to get the hours from, who will hire you and what their requirements are.
I would personally think that 34 is too late to start - I started at 26 and it was a stretch…but I think you WOULD get a job in the industry if you wanted it.
The retirements are coming thick and fast - particularly in the USA - and Boeing and Airbus are selling so many planes these days, especially in India, China, SE Asia, Middle East and Africa.
But do you want it?
The money is a third of what it was when I started - but you still have to pay at least US$120K to get into it.
The conditions are woeful and levels of safety have declined massively.
Given my life again, (at 26 had three companies, at 27 had a house etc., I sold everything to pay for the flying licence), I would spend my efforts making money and buy a Learjet or Citation to fly myself around in, and ONLY fly where I wanted to go, and in good weather.
You can’t imagine the stress/tiredness/ageing that occurs when you are flying into crap places, in crap weather in the middle of the night when you DON’T want to be there. It’s not healthy. The monsoon and Calicut -keeps me awake at night.
I am flying for the best airline in the world, with the best equipment in the world…and the rosters are the worst I have had in 29 years of flying and I can’t see myself doing it more than another 3 years.
Having said that, you could have an entire career flying turbo props and have a ball…given the right airline and location.
I haven’t talked about the SIMs (simulator exams and checks) every half-year and licence renewals…only having a job for six months at a time. Knowing that the next time you walk out of a simulator, you could be unemployed and out of the industry for good (same each time you do the medical exam every year). You can’t ever relax - you can’t have a holiday for more than 34 days - or you lose your licence. Every three months you have to get back into the books and study.
The SIM-tests gets most people…some are incapacitated by it. The best airlines only allow you to fail once, after which you are either out to look for another airline to join or you go back to the books for another six months before taking the simulator exam again. Not easy. The physiological stress that comes with failing a simulator exam can be enough to put one off the career. Worth considering in advance. The same goes for the health checks. You fail a routine health check and that’s the end of your flying career.
Pilots below the age of 40 years are checked annually, whereas those above are checked six monthly. Medical standards and certification are stringent. Their eyes, ear, nose, throat, equilibrium, mental, neurological, cardiovascular and general medical conditions are checked by an aviation trained doctor. As long as a pilot is certified to be medically fit, he can continue to fly internationally up to the age of 65 years in the US, Australia and other ICAO member countries. This limit is not fixed worldwide, as the retirement age for Captains can vary from country to country.
In Germany and the U.K., pilots by law are required to retire at 55 years of age. If a pilot fails their medical check, then they can look for a ground based job. They can retrain and become good at some other type of work: aviation mechanic, computer scientist, engineer, law etc. Some of these fields will actually pay a much better salary than a pilot’s job. If you are not fit to fly, no amount of bargaining/rationalizing is going to fix that — you've got to accept it and just move on with a positive attitude. The root cause (psychological problems, in your example) is a red herring. You may have to change careers for many reasons: injury, family, health, etc.
SO, there is a lot to consider. Hope I have given you some food for thought.
There WAS a cadet-ship in British Airways in 1967-9 (I think)…and in 1968 in Australia anyone with a CPL got an airline seat - then the airlines filled-up with no jobs given until the late 1980s…but that was it.
They are running cadet-ships in India, Hong Kong, Qatar, Oman, Vietnam and U.A.E. for their locals now…and in Oz a few airlines are selling flying trying + bonding - but no cadet-ships- meaning that you have to fork out the case yourself. British Airways does a sponsored scheme but you have to provide £80,000 as a security bond first (which you will get back). I am not aware ANY good airlines did cadetships after the hiring boom of the late 1960s (they hired anyone worth a licence and 1,000 or so hours but nothing below that).
It always cost about US$120,000 to get a licence…mine cost less upfront cash and that was in the 80s - but took three years - so by the time you earn/pay tax/ and live, so amounts to much more than that.
The drama of getting from 200 hours to 1,000 hrs has ALWAYS been tough. Every pilot will give you the same story, each worse and more horrid than the next guy. It’s the industry’s way of weeding-out those who are less than focused enough to make it. The world is littered with 800 hour failure pilots who cannot get a job after gaining their license! So, make sure that you have a plan B in case something goes wrong.
Unless you are wealthy and have the cash in hand, most guys who take a loan take until they are in their 40s to pay it back. Which really stuffs up your family life. I started late, and was never been able to afford marriage and kids in my 30s. Now in my 50s, I am too late for all that.
But I made the decision when I started flying: Commodore (car)/Rolladoor (garage)/ Labrador (dog!) or flying.
And I chose flying. Since I joined jets in 1992, I was a First Officer- earning 65% of a real wage until I was 52. And these days the wages are getting lower and lower.
I will retire at 57, purely because I can’t handle the exhausting lifestyle. It’s much harder than when I was in my 30s. The airlines make us work much harder.
If my airline went part time, say a 75% roster I might stay, but I highly doubt they will.
I sat there watching Captains visibly age-from 60-65 they turn into old men!
But if flying is for you, you’d have known when you were six. Nothing would have stopped you getting there. It has changed markedly since I took it up. It’s a young man’s game - and - for most, safety is plummeting.
Did you know Singapore Airlines have fired ALL their expats? The week before Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 crash at San Francisco, they did a go around after doing the exact same thing…with a Boeing 777 full of passengers. THAT- in the 90s - would be inconceivable."
Read this excellent article by BALPA
Below is a video of a veteran American pilot who gives the low down on the subject. Worth watching:
Caught while landing on Heathrow's runway 27L....not easy to get a shot while coming into a windy touchdown at 145knots!
BA's Concorde, reg G-BOAB, first flew on 18 May 1976 from Bristol Filton. Her last flight was a positioning ride on 15 August 2000 as "Speedbird Concorde Bravo Papa 002" from New York JFK to London Heathrow after flying 22,296 hours. Ever since then she has sat quietly at Heathrow, admiring all the new boys and girls on 27L in front of her. Beautiful bird!
Special thanks to Oman Air.
After a four-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur, we landed at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. This was my first trip to the country, and as with any trip where you go to a country for the first time, there was a sense of excitement lingering in my mind as to what to expect when I arrive. Prior to my trip to Kathmandu, I had read some blog posts written by Western tourists who had expressed their disappointment with how bad the conditions are at the arrivals hall at Kathmandu Airport.
From my experience, I can say that the process from disembarking from the aircraft to going through customs and to finally collect my luggage from the baggage carousal was a smooth one. There were no touts at the arrivals hall, no pushing or shoving from any of the fellow passengers and there was no confusion whatsoever. All the staff at the airport speak good enough English and I did not at any moment feel that they were going to cheat me in any way. Everything seemed to be in order and cleaner than I had thought before I arrived here. Even if I had flown Economy Class (I flew Business Class in this instance), then the experience would have been the same, as there is no separate formality for Business Class passengers arriving at Kathmandu (except the express customs lane and/or unless you are a VVIP!). My first impressions were that Nepalese people are very friendly and hospitable. Though, however, I have to admit that there was a sense of expectation of coming across traumatic scenes. This may have been because the city had recently been through two devastating earthquakes and received a lot of media attention. At the airport, I saw a few helicopters belonging to the United Nations World Food Program. At a side of the airport, and away from the main apron, there was also a damaged Airbus A330 belonging to Turkish Airlines, which, on the morning of the 4th of March, skidded off the runway after landing. The pilot overshot the runway during an initial attempt to land, before making a second attempt that sent the plane skidding off the tarmac.
Being a small airport, understandably, it is not so busy. Most importantly, I did not see or feel at any moment that someone was going to snatch my luggage and run away with it (as someone had pointed out in a blog I had read before I arrived here). I had five pieces of large luggage (plus my cameras and my laptop!), and as a single man travelling by himself, I felt completely safe. In fact, some of the fellow Nepali passengers were willing to assist me with my luggage, which was nice to see.
One thing I would recommend is that you can pre-book your taxi with your hotel or host company before you arrive here. My chauffeur driven van from the Hotel Yak & Yeti was waiting for me outside the arrivals hall.
Meeters and greeters (taxi drivers/relatives etc.) at Kathmandu Airport are not allowed to go inside the terminal building. Instead, they have to wait under a shelter (seen in the photo above) outside the arrivals building. Even for departures, only passengers are allowed inside the airport building (even for check-in). There is no haggling, touting or any hassle. Remarkably, everything is in order. My driver was waiting for me outside.: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
A Malaysia Airlines B777-200 parked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). Memories of the two Boeing 777-200 aircraft belonging to Malaysia Airlines that were involved in accidents in 2014 (MH17 and MH370) are still fresh in mind, and every time I see a Boeing 777 belonging to Malaysia Airlines, the events surrounding the unfortunate circumstances of both accidents immediately come to mind. Am I scared to fly with Malaysia Airlines because of those events? No, I am not, and neither should anyone else be afraid to fly with a fine airline as Malaysia Airlines. I firmly believe that those crew on flights MH17 and MH370 were fine people doing their job to take passengers safely in comfort from one place to another, but sadly due to unfortunate events that were out of their control, they perished. Millions of passengers fly around the world, and flying is still one of the safest ways to fly. Let us not forget that Malaysia Airlines is one of the best airlines in the world- it is one of the great legacy carriers. In 2008, I fondly remember having a conversation with Martin Barrow (former MAS Executive Director) in his London office where he invited me to try and experience flying Malaysia Airlines. "Navjot, try Malaysia Airlines and review them. Winner of the Best Cabin Crew awards for many years", said Mr. Barrow in 2008. Ever since that day, I have always wanted to fly with Malaysia Airlines, but could not do so. Thankfully, that day arrived in August (yes, in August, I have been busy all this time so did not have time to update my blog). I am proud to say I flew Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu on a Boeing 737-800 (I will write a full review later).
The very professional and friendly crew of Malaysia Airlines flight MH170 from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu in August. All power to them and their colleagues for having the courage and professionalism to continue to doing such as wonderful job after their company suffered such tragic events in the past two years. They say that in the airline industry, an airline is finished if it suffers two or more accidents. However, I do believe Malaysia Airlines will once again be the Skytrax 5-star airline that it used to be. From my experience, their cabin crew and in-flight service is among the best and up there with the top airlines in the world (and for those who may be wondering - no, I am not being paid to write this.): Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
At Chengdu Airport, bumped into an IL-76 belonging to PAF. No doubt a sign of the excellent relations between China and Pakistan! Amazing to see that this aircraft still flies. This one has missiles attached to it, too! Wonder what the Pakistanis are delivering or taking from Chengdu.
The Aircraft Dispatch Engineer (left hand side), stands level with the flight deck side window, but clear of the spinning engines' intakes (don’t want to get sucked in!), and holds up the nose gear steering pin for the benefit of the pilots to see before waving goodbye. He is not saying “Chocks away, chaps!”, but the meaning is something on similar lines. Attached to the pin is a long red tape with the words 'Remove Before Flight' written in large white letters. The pin is necessary to prevent un-commanded movement of the nose wheels during the pushback phase from the aircraft stand. If the pin is not removed then the gear will not retract, which, in the past, has resulted in embarrassment for pilots in a number of airlines (you can Google it!). It means dumping enough fuel to prevent an overweight landing, then returning to land. This can cost an airline millions of dollars (US), cause unnecessary delays, cause extra stress/pressure to the pilots and make a lot of passengers unhappy and worried- none of which any airline or pilot wants. Aircraft can usually take-off with a much greater weight than they can comfortably land. So, for example the Airbus A380 (and I believe the Boeing 787, too) can always land at its maximum take-off weight in an emergency, but it’s very stressful on the brakes and hence can cause tyre bursts.
"What Happens On the Flight Deck...Stays on the Flight Deck".
No names, no pack drill. No aircraft types and nothing else. But really. An airline can preach Air Safety, Crew Resource Management and professionalism until the animals come home. But what 'professional' company allows both of its operating Pilots to sleep their way across the Bay of Bengal and half of a busy Indian airspace- failing to answer radio calls for almost an hour!? They apparently got a shock when the air hostess accidentally turned off the autopilot. Lucky the passengers didn't find out...and lucky that they eventually woke up.
Here is how the UK Telegraph reported it.
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