I have spent my entire professional career in the field of Aviation in various capacities. I have received a tremendous amount of attention, respect and even adulation along the way. Only recently, I was made to realize that all the responsibility, skill, experience and qualifications amount to almost nothing on paper in the outside world. Surprised? So, was I. Allow me to give you a little backstory on my life as a Captain. I would like to introduce you to those faceless captains in whom you put your trust every time you buy a plane ticket.
I was an early bloomer. Right after my twelfth standard board exams, I was on track to getting my wings. After getting my licence in record time, I, started working as a flight instructor in a flying school. While still in my teens, I was imparting flying lessons to other teens. (Yes! It is possible). Many of my students were older than me. I don’t know how they experienced a young ‘un breathing down that control column watching them bungle up that landing!! 😆 It was an honorary position then, where the school uses your services for free while you gather “experience”. Like an intern! There was no money involved but there was something innately satisfying about teaching itself. It felt like I was helping people like me, realize their dream.
I made the natural progression to the airline industry. Nothing natural about it , actually. It is only in the Sub-continent that a fresh off the boat, newly minted pilot gets to fly the big jets. (Not alone, of course!😜) I am not complaining. Just stating facts. Airline flying is no monkey business. It makes a “man” out of you.(I am fundamentally opposed to that statement, but that is for another time. Here, I do wear the pants, pun intended!) In all seriousness, as trainee pilots we brought to the table all the knowledge we acquired exclusive to Aviation in a variety of highly technical subjects during the rigorous training process where 70% pass marks are mandated. I wish I had known that earlier!🙄 The highly competitive, airline selection process is an even bigger hurdle as jobs are not easy to come by. To say it is cut throat would be putting it mildly. Let me just say, what we lacked in experience, we had to more than make up for in hard work and perseverance. There are no short-cuts!
As you go through the grind of the grueling training and the odd hours, you acquire many skills along the way. A pilot, basically, is a Cockpit Manager. It is an official term, by the way! We learn to manage time, manuals, documents, licenses, roster time table, calendars, training schedules, cabin crew, engineers, passengers, air traffic controllers while also managing diet, rest, time-zones, family, fitness, people, egos, to name a few. The list is endless. Feel free to add to this list in the comment section below. Let me give you an example to demonstrate the learning curve. If a trainee, on a Bombay – Goa flight (40 mins flying time) after finishing all the paper work, talking to both air traffic controllers, taking the weather, setting up the arrival, checking the procedure, calculating the weight and speeds, addressing the passengers and briefing the crew (phew!), manages to find time to eat breakfast, all while flying the plane and keeping the aircraft clear of clouds, birds and other aircraft, he/she has learnt time management. Howzzat for skill?!
We are trained to perform our best in high pressure situation, take split second decisions, weigh in all possibilities all the while keeping our cool. That is key! We practice discipline, resourcefulness, team-work, delegation, communication and hospitality in our daily outings in uniform. Attributes associated mostly with the “corporate world“. We are taught to trust our intellect, instincts and co-pilot while we negotiate a possibly life-threatening emergency. It is made possible with hours of simulator training and regular checks. Problem solving, decision making, gathering and analyzing information are essential to the job. Traits highly valued in leadership roles in major companies. To act with precision, being meticulous and keeping the BIG PICTURE in mind becomes second nature to a Captain. We do not have the luxury to learn from our own mistakes and there is no room for error.
A question I am often asked and struggle to answer is “Why have I been with Air India all my working life?” The truth is, there are not as many airlines as there are banks, hospitals and corporations to switch jobs unlike other professions. The little movement that does happen is lateral. Mostly for higher pay, bigger aircraft or better location. The job profile and progression remains more or less the same. None of those reasons were big enough for me to make the move. Not to say that I have not thought about it, but for very different reasons. 🙂 All I wanted was to fly, no matter where the destination or what the aircraft and Air India let me do that.
Only after reaching almost at the mid-point of my working life, My aspirations started to change. I wanted to do something more. The ‘Corona times’ was the perfect opportunity to up-skill and study. My area of interest was in the field of understanding human behavior. All the courses I looked into for therapy and counselling required a Graduate or a Masters degree, at least. At a time when the Aviation industry is over turned and several pilots with decades of experience are out of a job, they will be ineligible to apply for placements in fields other than Aviation because their ‘skills, qualification or experience‘ do not count as a Degree!! Immigration was on the cards for my family earlier, only to be told that my “education” was insufficient for the points system.
I felt a rush of emotions upon this realization. First I was surprised, then I was in denial, followed by pure anger, rage, indignation!!! (As you can tell, I am learning to recognize feelings!😉) Everything I have ever worked for means so little? Does life experience count for nothing? Once the dust settled, what I felt most was humbled. Back on Earth and back to reality. Acceptance brings you peace. However, the discovery of an anomaly should also brings change. Many countries recognize levels of flying licences and experience as an equivalent of different levels of college education. It is only fair. Maybe someday the rest of the world’s institutions and our own will correct that anomaly. Meanwhile, I urge readers and people in effective positions to see pilots for who they are and what they bring to the table, not the Degree. Even doctors, who are probably the highest regarded, educated and respected with almost God-like stature in society have one life at stake at a time and it is never their own.
I leave you here to think about it. I know it is a lot of information! Next time you fly, do put a face to your captains and a heart too! 🧡
Meanwhile, I should tell you that after swallowing my pride and facing reality, I have enrolled myself into a Bachelors degree program in Aviation. Subjects I am conversant in and have taught trainees for years. A course I can probably teach. Unfortunately, I am not qualified to teach aviation subjects outside of Aviation. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? – Alanis Morisette
Song references seem to be becoming my thing!😊
Until next time..over and out!@thethinkingcaptain