When your fiancée is flying from London back to her hometown in China for Chinese New Year and in order to prepare for our wedding (which is on Chinese New Year itself!), you want to do something to make her trip extra special. Unfortunately because of logistical and personal reasons, I could not go on the same flight as her, and will be joining her a week later in Yangzhou. So, I passed a kind request to the lovely team in the PR department at British Airways to see if they could do something. I was hoping that the Captain would make an announcement, but the wonderful crew of flight BA169 from London to Shanghai exceeded all expectations. Not only did they upgrade her to Business Class (known as Club World at BA), but she was given a surprise congratulatory announcement in-flight. I could only wish I was there, but what a flight she had. Great stuff. Massive thanks to the Senior Purser, Captain and the whole operating crew of BA169, and of course, the ground staff at BA's head office in London. You guys are amazing. The perfect customer service that one can ever hope for.
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!
During busy period, when planes are waiting to land at London Heathrow Airport, they are usually placed by London Air Traffic Control to hold and circle around any one of four main points around London- Lambourne (North-East London), Ockham (South-West London), Bovingdon (North-West London), and Biggin Hill in South-East London. Aircraft are separated by a height of 1,000 feet. We circled around Biggin Hill for around four times on this occasion...providing me with spectacular views (like below)...and frustration for the other passengers who just wanted to go home!
Captured on the way to a short trip to Geneva. The mountain was the scene of two fatal air crashes; Air India Flight 245 in 1950 and Air India Flight 101 in 1966. Both planes were approaching Geneva airport and the pilots miscalculated their descent; 48 and 117 people, respectively, died. These days, planes try to avoid the airspace around the mountain as much as possible: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
My latest feature article for the Shanghai Daily is a travel report on how to spend 72 hours in London.
Like the rest of the world, I first heard about the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 tragedy on the morning of the 8th of March. A simple message on my phone from a friend who lives in Shenzhen appeared: 'a Malaysia Airlines plane en-route to PEK is presumed crashed with 239 people on-board'. I was shocked (and still am shocked). The flight was code-shared with China Southern Airlines as CZ748. I could have been on that plane had I taken that route to Beijing. It could have been anyone of us. I frantically started browsing through the various news channels to get more updates. There was nothing any of the news updates could report except that a plane was lost...it was totally bewildering. To not get a word out was very disconcerting and unusual (and still is)…'How could a sophisticated and modern Boeing 777-200 aircraft at 35,000 feet get lost around an hour after take-off in this modern-tech age?' The plane's radar transponder (which provides a ‘squawk code’ that enables ATC to track it’s movements on radar), and VHF radio link were mysteriously disabled around an hour after take-off and no one knew where the plane was or where it was heading.
Since that day, the world's attention has been focused with great interest on this lost plane and its 239 passengers and crew (12 crew members and 227 passengers from 15 nations and regions; the majority of passengers were Chinese citizens). One probably cannot even imagine the horror that the relatives and families of those on-board the aircraft are going through. I do believe that the media has been too intrusive and sometimes have gone over the top when focusing on the families. Being a journalist I know very well that photographers may have to get pictures of the grieving families to please their editors, as those pictures earn them their bread and butter (sadly..), however I don't want to or have to look at them. Not only is it bad taste, but also disrespectful and wrong in my opinion. I believe that in some media reports it was confirmed that family members even scuffled with the media scrum, asking them to stop taking photos of grieving relatives.
We are now led to believe that it has apparently crashed in the far reaches of the southern Indian Ocean. However, that being said, this case is still a mystery...and the truth, when we finally find and recover the wreckage (I believe they will), will be even more surprising and shocking as some of the theories that have been put forward.
There have been many theories relating to the plane’s disappearance, some of them perfectly valid, and some of them completely absurd and unbelievable. For three weeks, friends and relatives of those on-board have been hoping for news - any news- of the wreckage of the plane- but nothing so far has come out. This has understandably caused a sheer amount of frustration, anger, and complete mistrust with the airline and the Malaysian government by the relatives of those on-board this ill-fated flight.
Theories…Theories…And Yet More Theories (but no solid facts)
Whenever there is a situation like this involving a plane crash (or presumed plane crash etc), I tend not to watch the TV news reports too much because there are too many conflicting arguments to and fro, and without being disrespectful to anyone I can say that there are far too many ‘aviation experts’ and journalists alike all proposing their own theories. Second-guessing and speculation does no good and is of no value to nobody. I don't believe in conspiracy theories because they make little sense. It is better to wait until either the wreckage of the aircraft is found - which has not happened at the time of writing this blog.
Again, no offense intended to anyone, but you just wonder how on earth did some of these journalists become 'aviation experts' when some of them cannot even distinguish an aircraft type and they conjure up their own theories? Who gave them that title? It doesn't look good...and with all due respect even some airline pilots would not call themselves 'aviation experts'...they may be very good travel journalists who have reviewed luxury hotels, airlines etc....but lets not promote them or brand them as being an 'aviation expert'. I am not an aviation expert...that honorable title should be given to someone with a serious amount of technical knowledge about aviation, such as, for example, Flight Global's safety expert David Learmount and independent aviation expert Chris Yates. Both of them are highly admired within the industry. Then there are plenty of aviation experts at Boeing, Airbus, NASA etc.
Some of the theories that have been mentioned by many experts include: 1. Uncontrollable fire on-board or decompression of the aircraft cabin, 2. A bomb, 3. Pilot suicide, 4. Accidental shoot down, 5. Over speed, manual recovery stuff-up, stall, loss of complete control. 6. Midair collision, 7. Hijacking
Theories 1 and 5. could be plausible as 95% of crashes happen around 8 nautical miles either side of the airport below 3,000 feet and around 95% of aircraft fires happen in the first TWO hours of a flight (these are facts proven and well-known in the aviation industry). Airline pilots are rigorously trained during every simulator check (every 6 months) to realize quickly that the fire is uncontrollable, and then dive for the ground as quickly as possible before the wing burns through and find the nearest airport to land at (if possible)- all under 20 minutes. However, ditching any plane in the dark (this plane disappeared at around 01:20am) is not easy, and especially when you are flying at around 300 kph.
In the initial stages of the investigation, the only real evidence available to the public was the visual observation from an oil rig worker, a New Zealander called Mike McKay. He noted in his e-mail report (which was issued publicly as shown below), that he saw flames start, and go out, at altitude near where the Vietnamese radar trace concluded. An experienced Captain I know commented that his initial reactions upon reading this report ‘led him to assume a wing separation because of over-stressing of the airframe in an apparent recovery attempt from a stall and then an eventual uncontrollable spin straight into the sea.’ That particular Captain went on to say: ‘I figured the lack of debris due to the aircraft going straight-in, and compressing the 777 to the size of a bus.’ Nobody has publicly discounted Mr. McKay’s report, and there has been no proof so far…but yet more anguish and frustration for the families and relatives of the ones on-board the aircraft.
There were also many reports about the aircraft being picked-up on radar west of the Malay Peninsula. Nevertheless, the Chief of Royal Malaysian Air Force in a media statement rejected these unconfirmed reports on the 11th March (please see below)*
It is difficult to believe theories 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7. This is because there is no proof of any such bomb, and no terrorist group from anywhere has claimed responsibility or any demand for ransom for hijacking (from past cases we have seen that terrorists and hijackers usually cannot help taking responsibility…).
Initially there were suspicions of terrorism or hijacking based on reports that two Iranian passengers boarded the flight with fake passports; however, it was eventually revealed that they were just after a better life in Europe. There would have been a clear demand from someone if this plane was held on ransom. A recent example of this was displayed on the 17th February earlier this year when an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767 was hijacked by it's own First Officer and flown to Geneva. The hijacker, identified by officials as First Officer Hailemedehin Abera Tagegn, waited for his Captain to go to the toilet before locking himself in the cockpit. As with all hijacking events in history, we saw that the hijacker did contact someone to demand something- asylum in this case. However, in the case of Malaysia Airlines MH370 nobody contacted anyone.
Having spoken to some airline pilots, and listened to their theories from experience, I am led to understand that it may have been a fire on-board (smoke kills within a few minutes….quicker than we all think...and especially at high altitude). At some point, after its crew and passengers surrendered and become incapacitated by smoke, the aircraft would have been flying all by itself, and would have eventually gone down into the Indian Ocean once it ran out of fuel.
If the plane was in the cruise on auto-pilot for so many hours without human intervention (as people claim now)...can we say that it's a miracle that it did not collide with another aircraft?...shockingly sad, utterly heartbreaking and scary to think that a 'ghost' plane was flying in the sky with incapacitated people on board...terrible. The answer from a highly experienced Captain with over 28 years flying service was: ‘The sky is enormous, you'd be hard pressed to hit another aircraft…even if you tried it would not work….’
However, the investigation and interrogation by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) and Inmarsat plc, the British satellite telecommunications company, has been verified and accepted. The investigators from that company now confirm a Southern Indian Ocean trajectory and loss of signal. We have to respect that they have enough information to make that call. At this point in time, you can’t help but wonder why they (the investigators) did not dispatch a couple of long-range reconnaissance aircraft, that could have photographed the whole hemisphere by now, from over 50-60,000 feet, and with minute detail.
Inmarsat sell auxiliary satellite bandwidth to airlines and shipping companies (passenger and freight), so they can provide constant movement connectivity anywhere on Earth. According to the company, around 90% of the world's wide-bodied jets come installed with Inmarsat antennas built in to the fuselage – whether or not the airline operating the plane ultimately uses it. Now, even though Malaysia Airlines did not use it for technical data transmission, nevertheless, the technology has been tremendously useful in the search operation. For the search teams’ time and the treacherous weather in the Indian Ocean are their biggest enemies at the moment because the battery of the ‘pinger’ from the aircraft’s black box is going to stop sending out signals soon.
As well as the relatives of those who were on flight MH370, thoughts are also with the searchers. There's a LOT of ocean to cover (much of it the deepest in the world, and undiscovered so far), and every one of those searches are doing the best they can. The air and sea search efforts have been shifting throughout this case, and have recently shifted yet again as fresh radar data suggested the aircraft headed south faster than initially thought, bringing the plane down some 1,100 kilometres north-east of the previous search area, putting the crash point 1,800 kilometers off Perth, Australia. One thing is for sure, this investigation also reveals the large amount of rubbish that is lurking around in our oceans (!).
It could have been accidentally shot-down by either the Malaysians or the Vietnamese…however, who would want to practice firing missiles at 2 a.m.?!; and when it seems that hardly anyone of the Military installations actually noticed the aircraft? Unless there are some issues that have not been monitored with the mental pilots health, no sane commercial airline pilot carrying passengers would even think of entering another country’s airspace - especially knowing that they have a military Air Force - without permission. You can bet your bottom dollar that the minute a civilian (or military) aircraft enters another country’s airspace without permission, then a bunch of air force fighter jets would be scrambled to get close and personal within minutes!
In regards to reports that some villagers in the Maldives saw a plane flying low doesn't sound plausible to me. No offense but anything bigger than a seaplane would seem 'big' to the people there because most of them have probably never seen a plane of that size. Anybody...and I mean ANYBODY...who has seen the only airport in the Maldives (i.e. Male Airport) large enough to take a Boeing 777 knows that you can't hide a plane of that size anywhere on that place. The airport, just like the islands around it, is TINY...the 777 would stick out like a sore thumb!
The plane would not be able to hide anywhere, even on a remote airfield. Why? Because it would have to go over land masses and it would easily have been captured on primary radar operated by the military. As I mentioned above that nobody can enter another country's airspace without being detected by the air defense zone radars.
It could have been pilot suicide. However, all the commercial pilots I have spoken to have told me that it is highly unlikely that the pilot would have committed suicide. In the entire history of commercial aviation, only 4 airline pilots have been documented to have committed suicide during flight…this includes: Silk Air 185, Egyptair 990, LAM Mozambique 470, and Royal Air Maroc 630. It’s a very privileged career where individuals spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and many years to get trained, and are being regularly examined every 3-6 months for simulator training, in-flight checks, and health checks. It must take a very mentally disturbed and sick individual to take his and others lives with him on a plane.
No sane pilot wants to die or kill anyone..or even think of such idiotic things. Pilots have the moral duty of taking ownership and responsibility to save lives FIRST before anything in an emergency- safety is everything in aviation. Unless there is concrete evidence that this pilot committed suicide, it's a very difficult theory to accept and swallow.
The Boeing 777 aircraft has an exceedingly impressive safety record – the first fatal crash in its 19-year history only came in July 2013, when an Asiana Airlines (read about it here) aircraft crash landed short of the runway at San Francisco International Airport. Three of the 307 people aboard died. Besides the Asiana Airlines crash, the only other serious incident with the Boeing 777 came in January 2008 when a British Airways B777-200 landed short of the southern runway at London’s Heathrow airport without any serious casualties.
Brand Malaysia Airlines Damaged?
As the saying goes in PR that ‘any publicity, is good publicity’…however there is question in this case when it comes to a sad and tragic event like this. 'If you love life, don't fly with Malaysia Airlines!!' shouted one relative of a passenger on #MH370 as the Malaysian PM gave the news conference...at that point you would have thought that the Airline and the Government had shot themselves in their own foot (the above quote taken from twitter).
According to a friend who flies the Airbus A330, there is a saying in the aviation industry that if an airline is on the front pages for more than TWO weeks, then it's bound for failure. If that statement is true then Malaysia Airlines may be history. However, I think that the airline may survive this bad episode because: 1. It's the national flag carrier of Malaysia, and 2. Malaysia Airlines is strongly financially backed by the Malaysian government and Penerbangan Malaysia Berhad. The airline may be struggling (it has been some time), however I am optimistic that Malaysia Airlines will eventually bounce back in the future. They may initially reduce the fares and go for a heavily tempting PR campaign to increase interest, OR the worst-case scenario may be that it could be taken into the hands of a low-cost carrier, such as Tony Fernandes’ Air Asia (though the latter statement may not be plausible).
Bear in mind that national flag carriers have gone bust in the past (Olympic Airways, Sabena Belgian Airlines, Swiss Air (before it was re-branded), VIASA Venezuelan Airlines, VARIG Brazilian, Balkan Bulgarian, MALEV Hungarian and many others), however it must be noted that these airlines were not provided strong financial support by their own financially struggling governments. It must also be noted that some major airlines have gone bust after experiencing disasters. Prime examples include Pan Am (after the Lockerbie disaster), TWA 800, and Swiss 111. However, in these respects, Malaysia Airlines is fortunate to have solid support from their government.
I firmly believe that until any concrete evidence has been presented, then those Malaysia Airlines crew and passengers should be hailed as heroes for trying to save the plane from disaster, but were unable to do so for whatever reason (fire…most likely considering what’s been presented). It’s not good of the tabloid newspaper editors for writing articles that may be deemed untrue and certainly not good to mislead their readers without any facts or proof.
While the families are understandably upset with the airline and the Malaysian government, it must be noted that the airline is just an observer that is passing the information from the investigators to the public. And in this case we have investigators and search teams from around 25 countries, so therefore the ability to communicate effectively and coordinate together as ONE team in a smooth fashion is absolutely crucial. There is not much an airline can do once an investigation starts except keep the media and families of the crew and passengers informed , and therefore it is obviously causing friction because the public are not getting much information from the airline or the government. The airline’s role and credibility is measured by how they treat the families, and how they handle the media. The one good thing this has revealed is the frightfully negligent way we have approved airplane safety, particularly design of black box.
Without any doubt whatsoever, we have seen ourselves on the TV screens in the past three weeks that the airline has mishandled the media (and vice-versa), and that comes across bad from any PR prospect. It just shows that the airline may have not been prepared for such an event. Perhaps this would be an excellent learning curve for all other airlines around the world too. They key word here is ‘investigation’- and so the airline cannot really do much except wait for the investigators to complete their job. When an aviation disaster happens, the airline and the management team of the airline are mere observers, and wait for what the investigators come out with.
The airline has no doubt one of the best in-flight products in the industry. I fondly recall the words of Mr. Martin Barrow -former non-executive director of Malaysia Airlines- inviting me some years ago to try their product: 'Why don't you try MAS, Navjot? Best cabin crew in the world'. Nevertheless, far fetched from reality, the airline is going through some tough times indeed.
A week ago when the families vented their angry and frustration during one of the chaotic press conferences, the only words I could think of were: complete madness...completely diabolical...too many 'aviation experts/cooks' in the kitchen...too much clutter/confusion...too much media intrusion around the grieving families...too many theories. We can only hope that the relatives will have some news soon on what exactly happened to their loved ones in their final moments. The one good thing this event revealed is the frightfully negligent way we have approved airplane safety, particularly the design of the black box.
It's a mystery that not one piece of the plane has been found. It's a truly amazing situation the aviation industry has found themselves in - though I do believe that it may take time before we find something. When people point to the size of the aircraft, the answer to that is simple: the aircraft is not big at all. In fact it's probably the size of one bottle cap in a large sea. If it went straight into the ocean then it would have turned immediately into a metal box perhaps the size of a small bus...especially if it went in nose first, at speed...and everything else would have sadly been either vaporised or turned into minute shrapnel pieces.
Until concrete evidence is presented, I, like many others, believe that we should not label the crew on that plane as terrorists, suicidal, or anything else negative...but as heroes who were frantically trying to get the plane safely back on the ground but could not do so.
* a version of this article also appeared on the Huffington Post blog: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/navjot-singh/post_7222_b_5056524.html
My sincere thanks to my friends and colleagues, many of whom are professionals in the aviation industry and are touched by this case, and who contributed with their thoughts to this article. - Navjot Singh
*The Royal Malaysia Air Force has rejected the media reports that it tracked the Boeing 777 after it turned west in a statement posted on its Facebook page and reproduced in full below.
(This statement could be read as confirming the substance of the reports, that the RMAF did in fact follow MH370 as reported.)
OFFICIAL STATEMENT BY CHIEF OF ROYAL MALAYSIAN AIR FORCE ON BERITA HARIAN NEWS ARTICLE DATED 11th MARCH 2014 ON SEARCH AND RESCUE OPERATIONS IN THE STRAITS OF MALACCA
1. I refer to the Berita Harian news article dated 11th March 2014 on Search and Rescue Operations in the Straits of Malacca which (in Bahasa Malaysia) referred to me as making the following statements: The RMAF Chief confirmed that RMAF Butterworth airbase detected the location signal of the airliner as indicating that it turned back from its original heading to the direction of Kota Bahru, Kelantan, and was believed to have pass through the airspace of the East Coast of and Northern Peninsular Malaysia. The last time the plane was detected by the air control tower was in the vicinity of Pulau Perak in the Straits of Malacca at 2.40 in the morning before the signal disappeared without any trace, he said.
2. I wish to state that I did not make any such statements as above, what occurred was that the Berita Harian journalist asked me if such an incident occurred as detailed in their story, however I did not give any answer to the question, instead what I said to the journalist was “Please refer to the statement which I have already made on 9 March 2014, during the press conference with the Chief of Defence Force at the Sama-Sama Hotel, Kuala Lumpur International Airport”.
3. What I stated during that press conference was, The RMAF has not ruled out the possibility of an air turn back on a reciprocal heading before the aircraft vanished from the radar and this resulted in the Search and Rescue Operations being widen to the vicinity of the waters of Pulau Pinang.
4. I request this misreporting be amended and corrected to prevent further misinterpretations of what is clearly an inaccurate and incorrect report.
5. Currently the RMAF is examining and analyzing all possibilities as regards to the airliner’s flight paths subsequent to its disappearance. However, for the time being, it would not be appropriate for the RMAF to issue any official conclusions as to the aircraft’s flight path until a high amount of certainty and verification is achieved. However all ongoing search operations are at the moment being conducted to cover all possible areas where the aircraft could have gone down in order to ensure no possibility is overlooked.
6. In addition, I would like to state to the media that all information and developments will be released via official statements and press conferences as soon as possible and when appropriate. Our current efforts are focused upon on finding the aircraft as soon as possible.
GENERAL TAN SRI DATO’SRI RODZALI BIN DAUD RMAF
Chief of Royal Malaysian Air Force
11 March 14 Kuala Lumpur
Having ruled the skies for over three decades, Concorde stands quietly by the side of the BA Maintenance hangers at Heathrow opposite runway 27L and admires all the new 'kids on the block' who land and take-off in front of her. I miss the daily thundery noise that she used to make (everyday at 4pm) over south London coming in from JFK.
With an ever fast growing world...aircraft manufacturers need to build faster and more fuel efficient aircraft. The faster the world uses up all the oil, the faster they discover the Next Big Sustainable Energy product. We're (passengers) only dong our bit for the planet by putting the bets down for that!
Photo taken from a BA A321 as we landed on the southern runway at Heathrow.
It's always a sheer delight to fly over Central London while making the final approach to London Heathrow Airport...best view in town...takes about 5 minutes to land from this point...but takes 2 HOURS to get back home to Dulwich.
One of the advantages of flying out of Heathrow (especially if you are departing out of the easterly runways') is that you get treated to some marvelous views of the capital (weather and visibility prevailing!). Though it must be said that with a take-off speed of around 250 knots/287mph (and increasing!), and an increasing altitude, it doesn't offer hope that the views will last for long- especially as it takes only around 6 minutes to get from Heathrow to the other side of London! The views never fail to captivate (camera ready at hand, I even managed to get a photo of my home as we flew over it for a final goodbye!)
A two mile long road will just take you upto two miles...but two miles of runway will take you ANYWHERE!
On the morning of the 6th of July 2013 just past 11.28am local time, a Boeing 777-200ER belonging to South Korea's Asiana Airlines (flight number OZ214) carrying 307 passengers and crew, crash landed while on approach onto San Francisco International Airport's Runway 28L.
Whenever a plane crash happens, second guessing and pure rumors or any other speculation does no good and is of no value to anyone - even to professional journalists who work for Broadsheets - trust me on that one!. It can be extremely irritating (and distressing for passengers relatives), when people on the likes of Twitter, Facebook, PPRune, Airliners.net, Jetphotos.net and Fox News' etc. go about with their so called 'aviation experts', spewing historical events and their own takes on what could have gone wrong. I prefer to wait until either the wreckage is examined/investigation in complete or the NTSB is notified. It's one of the reasons that I don't turn on the TV at these times but rely on concrete factual information for journalists from informed media such as FT.com and the BBC.
The weather was reported as very good; the latest METAR reported light wind, 10 miles (16 km) visibility, with no precipitation, and no forecast or reports of wind shear. The pilots performed a visual approach assisted by the runway's precision approach path indicator (PAPI).
The landing gear and then the tail struck the seawall that projects into San Francisco Bay. Both engines and the tail section separated from the aircraft. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) noted that the main landing gear, the first part of the aircraft to hit the seawall, "separated cleanly from [the] aircraft as designed". The vertical and both horizontal stabilizers fell on the runway before the threshold.
The remainder of the fuselage and wings rotated (yawed) counter-clockwise 330 degrees as it slid westward. Video showed it pivoting about a wing and the nose while sharply inclined to the ground. It came to rest to the left of the runway, 2,400 feet (730 m) from the initial point of impact at the seawall.
Out of the 291 passengers and 16 crew, sadly 3 passengers died, and 181 passengers suffered serious but non-fatal injuries. Out of the three who lost their lives, two were named as Ms. Ye Mengyuan and Ms. Wang Linjia, both Chinese nationals, and both 16-year-old middle school students from China's eastern Zhejiang province. They were seated at the rear of the plane and their bodies were found on the tarmac. The third passenger died of her injuries several days later at hospital. At the request of her immediate family, her name and the extent of her injuries were not published. Among the injured were three flight attendants who were thrown onto the runway while still strapped in their seats when the tail section broke off after striking the seawall short of the runway.
Now, on that note a point about the photos of the crash and the relatives going around on Twitter etc. (especially the UK Daily Mail, and other tabloids), that can be so ridiculous. OK, photographers may have to get pics of the grieving families to keep their Editors happy ..BUT I don't want to OR have to look at them. It's just sick. RIP to those who have died. You can tell when the stupidity at The UK Daily Mail has reached new heights when they write false stories in order to get their readership high. The Editor has been trying to pretend that his rag is NOT a tabloid (heaven forbid) by spilling stories over the gutter in an effort to win a design competition at his local school. He should give up & just use the tabloid tricks that were developed by experts.
The Boeing 777, like ALL American built aircraft (except the 787 Deamliner - now dubbed the 'nightmareliner' because of its high number of faults) is a very reliable and strong aircraft- the Boeing 777s are the aviation's equivalent of the John Deer Tractor, you can throw anything at them and not a single whisker in sight will damage them.
This was the Boeing 777's first fatal accident, and second crash (previous: British Airways Flight 38 in 2008), and third hull loss since the Boeing 777 began operating commercially in 1995.
It's a well known fact in the industry that around 95% of aircraft crashes happen 8 nautical miles either side of the airport below 3000 feet. 95% of aircraft fires happen in the first two hours. The fix is, when realizing it is uncontrollable, dive for the ground before the wing burns through. Record aloft is below 25 mins.
Below is video animation showing the comparison between the actual flight path taken by flight OZ214 into San Francisco's Runway 28L, and what the correct flight path should have looked like.
The video is a testament to a brilliantly-built aircraft; designed and modelled entirely on computers in the early 1990s. The video shows what happens if you can use the fuselage to dissipate the energy, then the landing gear and the engines shear off at extreme speed, as designed. Unlike steel, aluminium doesn't produce sparks like steel does.
An experienced Airline pilot with over 28 years in the cockpit, who did not wish to be named, told me (I quote):
'It's long been the Airbus philosophy that "if the aircraft is not doing what you want (for ANY reason) disconnect the automatics and fly it manually at once". That works well in airlines where you have a wealth of basic Visual Flight Rules (VFR) flying skills to fall-back on. Sadly, with the death of general aviation around the world, there are many countries where pilots don't have that background. It's why Airbus has increased the endorsement program from 9 simulators to 13. Airbus now teaches people to fly each model visually with all systems working normally (especially after what happened with the Air France 447 crash). Who would have thought it would come to this? Many of us. Predicting that, one day, each pilot would have to pass a test of knowledge to survive. At Aviation Theory Centre in the early 90s I ran a series of lectures explaining that our books taught "To Pass The Test - Not Just The Exam". Sadly most theory centres just teach the syllabus and no more.'
Another airline pilot gave me this account of an aircraft coming in too LOW into Dubai Airport a few days after the Asiana Airlines crash happened (I won't name the pilot who gave me this credible report):
'Blood ran cold today. 28 years of flying and never heard this from an APProach controller:
APP: "XXXXX (an indian carrier) Are you too low? I have you at 800 feet!" [now, he usually transfers to TWR at about 5 miles (1500 feet) so there is no reason to be at that level on Approach.]
XXXX: after long silence "XXXX going around"
APP: "XXXX are you climbing? I still have you below radar lowest safe!"
XXXX: " We are climbing through 1,500, can we make a visual circuit?" (this is how Gulf Air crashed an A320 and the clever controller decided to take it out of his hands...)
APP: "Climb to 4000 feet and make left turn to 030." (Thereby saving the day, he never even answered the query for a visual approach.)
How, you ask? Well the QNH was 994mb and 500 feet lower than the std of 1013. Setting the altimeter from high (1013) to a low number winds OFF altitude. Old Pilots say: "High to Low LOOKOUT below!" I bet the XXXX boys still had 1013mb set'.
The below presentation, ('Children of Magenta'), provides a wealth of experience and advice for pilots of new-generation airliners (especially 787, A380, and A350). When in doubt: Disconnect automation, fall back on your flying skills and FLY THE AIRCRAFT.
HOWEVER, the problem is: what if you a crew who have no experience in hand-flying aircraft, no raw flying experience to fall back-on (as those Asiana 214, and Air France 447 pilots)?
One of my mates, an experienced Captain for Emirates, says: 'Always make sure YOU are flying the aeroplane, and that IT'S not flying you. Sadly, this brilliant instructor has passed away. He'd be rolling in his grave if he knew that there are thousands of pilots currently flying airliners who have never had such a background.'.
Flying is not the same as it just to be back in the 1980s and even early 1990s- it's not as glamorous as it used to be...and even more importantly safety is plummeting these days. Did you know Singapore have fired ALL their expats since this accident at SFO? The week before this Asiana crash, a Singapore Airlines B777 did a go around on the same runway after doing the exact same thing…with a 777 full of passengers. That - in the 90s - would have been inconceivable!.
When you have 300 passengers behind you, there is no room for failure, and it's dangerous to just depend on the Autopilot. No doubt, the Asiana Airlines crew were invited for a not-so polite chat over a tea session in Washington...no biscuits though.
British Airways get their first Airbus A380-800- that's SIX years after Singapore Airlines became the first carrier to fly this SuperJumbo (inaugural flight was on the 25th of October 2007- and 9 airlines already operate this aircraft)....and so you wonder why the UK media reacts as if they've never seen this plane before....(the same thing will happen when/IF Virgin Atlantic Airways get their first A380 aircraft- Virgin was one of the first carriers to order the A380, and was originally due to take the model in 2006; but that's been pushed back to 2018).
A spectacular sunset greets us as we approach Nizhny Novgorod (just outside of Moscow) at a
speed of Mach 0.89 (594 mph, 955 km/h, 516 kn), cruising at 37,000 feet. The outside air temperature is around -60ºC Celsius (!)…you just wonder, is it really that cold just outside this window, and are we really flying at nearly 600mph?!
There are seven daily non-stop flights to Hong Kong from London (with Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and Cathay Pacific). The London to Hong Kong route (and vice-versa) is a highly lucrative one because it connects these two world financial centres, and the demand is high with all flights almost always fully booked. With each airline carrier in direct competition, it is no wonder that the products are all very tempting to try. For this flight, I decided to check out the relatively brand new First Class cabin of British Airways. There are fourteen private suites located in the nose cone of the Boeing 747-400 aircraft, each with a 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) bed, a 15-inch (38 cm) wide entertainment screen, and in-seat power.
British Airways operate the Boeing 747-400 aircraft on this route, and in November 2013 the airline will start using the brand new Airbus A380-800 for the Hong Kong route. While these photos just offer a glimpse of the new First Class cabin, please take a look at my flight experience from SEAT 1A on British Airways Boeing 747-400 here.
2002年我的第一次旅行向中国….并且如此开始的旅途 (My first trip to CHINA in 2002- including Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Shanghai)
On the afternoon of Friday the 23rd of February 2002 (it was also my sisters birthday), I left Loughborough for Heathrow giving myself of what I thought would be ample time, in the hope that I would be able to join my parents and sister for a short dinner at the airport terminal before leaving on the 13 hour evening flight with British Airways to Hong Kong. It just so happened that I arrived late (as always I do for my flights!), had no time to think about any long good-byes let alone a dinner; and ended up running for the departure gate (as always). Its a bad habit of mine, running at airports to catch my flight at the last minute, irrespective if I am on a business or pleasure trip...however, remarkably I have never missed a flight (YET).
Perhaps the greatest trip of my life so far because I had done so much preparation to understand the culture, the language (although I could not even say "Hello" in Chinese) and the food...but I am not exaggerating. In actual fact the whole week seemed like a long dream because everything happened so quickly. I completed my final exam in the morning in the (annoyingly) wet and windy Loughborough; and 24 hours later I was on a night cruise on the Pearl River in the middle of Guangzhou, and it was like, I have to make the most of this trip because I am only here for seven days. When you are so far away for such a short time, not knowing if you will ever go back to the place again in the future, then there should be a second wasted. So effectively everyday seemed like a great dream because I saw so many things in such a small amount of time. It was amazing.
First impressions of China?
China is a very beautiful country, one which has so much to offer but does not normally get the chance to show off its true inner self to the outside world- what do I mean by this? Well, there are those who question if it is still a friend or foe, there are also lots of biased points against (and some, of course, for) China’s policies. Media can be a wrong source for digesting a destination’s good and bad points because not all media is full of positive points. For example, the coverage of the Beijing Olympics (as an example), I believe was not covered in a well balanced way. I use factual data to take wherever I go (like for example from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Website). Of course, one does not expect a simple and smooth approach to life from a country which is still considered by some hard-line economists as a sleeping dragon that is too ambitious...the obvious answer to this statement would be that even Rome was not built in one day.
It goes without saying that the cultural differences do not hit you when you land in Hong Kong (as most of its’ colonial British feel is somewhat fading away at a slow pace- for many it’s still a home away from home). There used to be a saying among the English, “If you cannot make it in London, then go to Hong Kong”, however, even though Hong Kong has a “International” feel to it, that statement would no longer stand as the former colony is now, of course, part of China. Nevertheless, the real culture shock would hit anyone once they cross the border into the mainland. Shenzhen is the city that borders Hong Kong and at that time had only 2 border crossing, one at Huanggang and the other at LoWu.
From Hong Kong, once I crossed the border I took the Guang-Shen train straight to the capital of Guangdong Province, Guangzhou. If I just say that “China is amazing and full of so many surprises that one cannot just sum up the whole picture in one go”, that would be a common statement these days because so many people have experienced the country, but then in 2002, for me, those were the first words that came out of my mouth. China has of course a lot of similarities with its neighbours (namely Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, India etc), and like any Asian country which is moving from the developing stage into a newly industrialised stage, it has the good points, the bad points and the unmentionable ones- and that’s not too difficult to observe.
A short ride on one of the many local buses will open your eyes immediately; you may be travelling in a very affluent area at one point, and then suddenly you may come across a highly deprived neighbourhood. An extreme example as it may seem, but just imagine you are driving through the suburbs of a busy western city like London one minute and then suddenly you are travelling through the shanty towns of, say an economically deprived rural village, and a minute later you are suddenly back into the affluent area (vice-versa). There may be many places in the world where such contrasts exist, but to see it in the flash and blood is a unique experience. Watching something on the television or reading about it on the internet is not quite the same as experiencing it in real life.
Then there are also the minor but important downsides from living in the world’s fastest growing economy: China is also a VERY noisy country, especially in the big cities (Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai), for example it is considered normal to use the drill or do heavy construction at 2am in the morning or even all night! If you are in London and you have noisy neighbours, I bet nothing is more annoying than having a drill go off almost all night long.
China is also the world's largest consumer of alcohol so it is no surprise that if your neighbours (irrespective if it is a hotel or home) are heavy drinkers, then they will sure keep you awake all night with loud shouting and arguing over Mah-jong or any card games which they be playing. It may be quite and then suddenly you hear a loud “Arrrgggg” (of course, indicating that someone has won the Mah-Jong equivalent of the national lottery!).
China is also the worlds largest market for tobacco, therefore it is no surprise that you will be exposed to smoke everywhere because people smoke in Internet cafes, restaurants, cafes, buses...and if you don't smoke (like myself) then you are going to find it just that little bit challenging!
If you are in the workplace (corporate culture defines a very different meaning in China as compared to say a more "International" environment such as London, Hong Kong), then you will be exposed to things such as the "normality" of answering you mobile phone in the middle of a corporate meeting/presentation and even a formal Interview!
What about the culture, the people and those Famous Chinese Restaurants?
While it is quite difficult for a lone western tourist to get around and speak English with the locals, the people are very friendly and assisting. Over in the border in Hong Kong it is more of a relaxed approach towards foreigners because of the reason that Hong Kong is multicultural (and maybe because there are too many people), however that is not the case in the mainland. You do get a lot of respect and VIP treatment as a foreigner in China.
To some extent it's an advantage to be a foreigner in the mainland because you get treated in a much better way. I mean as an example I remember popping into a local sweet shop (nothing more different then a newsagent in the UK), and as soon as they saw me entering the shop, they were so eager (not pushy or anything) to lend a hand or get me to buy anything. Now I can imagine that kind of hospitality would seldom be seen towards a tourist in the UK- of course there are good places and bad places everywhere. That’s just one simple example, and also another one is that people are most willing to learn English.
The Chinese food you get in your local takeaways’ in the UK is nothing compared to what you get over there in China, of course that’s the same with all other foreign foods I hear you say, but the experience is totally different. You simply have to taste it to believe it. The most wonderful thing about seafood in Chinese restaurants is that it’s FRESH and you can choose what to eat straight from the fish tanks!
Food, especially when it comes to eating out at Dinner time, is a very important part of the Chinese lifestyle- and even more "fashionable" in Guangzhou because of the variety of seafood available here.
Restaurants in general within the UK are nothing compared to what you will see in Guangzhou or for that matter the whole of China, it brings out a whole new meaning to eating out. The competition can be so fierce in some cases that some of the best seafood restaurants in Guangzhou are similar in size to four story buildings, which usually tend to have their own Karaoke Bars (a must to try even if you do not speak the language and a popular pastime of the locals).
Chinese tea...and did I hear someone say night zoo?
One of the highlights of my trip was going to see a zoo at night (yes.. a night zoo). A unique experience which is seldom seen in the west..with all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures. Not only a zoo but mix that with a night circus, a laser disco show, and a whole load of water acrobats show which consisted of the Chinese water sports Olympic team...so it was more like a huge funfair but at nighttime..quite impressive actually. Sounds too good to believe.
Moving on from night zoos...lets talk about something which is a bit more of a common thing in China...Tea! Apart from India and Sri Lanka, China is the world largest exporter of the stuff...and its pretty much quite hard to avoid...leaving China without trying at least 4 or 5 different types of tea would be a comparable to leaving Scotland without trying whiskey. If its your first time drinking Chinese tea, you would be immensely surprised to know that it has no taste just sweet smell, nevertheless after a week of trying the stuff- day in day out, it felt soo good that I got put off drinking English tea altogether!
This one week’s trip was my first trip to China and just about when I thought that maybe this would be also my last time to go there, I was fortunate enough to have been offered a contract position as a Graduate Sales Engineer with Philips Semiconductors in Shenzhen, China. This was indeed an exciting opportunity, so much for my fate that I have been in China ever since and never looked back.
Early afternoon arrival into Heathrow offers a lovely view of the city in glorious sunshine. All the landmarks in the Square Mile (right), Tower Bridge, and London Bridge (left) are visible. It took around 4 minutes to land at Heathrow's Runway 27L from this point, and it took about 2 hours to get back to home in South London!
Get in Touch:
Here I share my thoughts
and experiences during
my travels, and how some things have affected my life as an expat and world traveller. Travelling is about capturing that moment in life. Every word, view and opinion on this page is that of Navjot Singh - except where indicated. The most recent is at the top. Scroll down to read the archive. Or search using CTRL+F (COMMAND + F) and enter a keyword to search the page. Just some of the stories you never heard before.
The NAVJOT-SINGH.COM web BLOG is separate to this web site....Click blog, which may
not be visible in some
countries due to local
so in those cases this
weblog may be read. The weblog also includes some of my press trip reports- most of which are not published on the official blog because of copyright issues. The weblog also contains articles that may be associated directly with a PR trip for a country, airline or a hotel. These are PR reviews done in relations with various companies.
All photos and words
are © Navjot Singh unless stated. Photos taken by others or by agencies are appropriately copyrighted under the respective name. No photo or word/s may be taken without the prior written permission by the author (i.e. Navjot Singh). All Rights Reserved.