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
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