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  • Writer's pictureGavin Ang

AIRTALK Episode 2: Full-Time Pilot And Part-Time Travel Influencer

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

Just don’t be afraid, dare to dream and take that leap forward. The journey is not easy, but it is always worth it."

Previously, we got a chance to meet Marc, a Boeing 747-400F cargo pilot, as he talked about his journey and his passion for flying the Queen of the Skies. In today's episode, we managed to snag an opportunity to interview one of the most active Asia-based pilots on Instagram: Malaysia Airlines A330 First Officer Vivian Foo (@vivianvvenwen). Given Vivian’s flight schedules, we opted for an online video call with her while she was on a layover in Adelaide.


As per my usual standards, I like to keep my interviews fairly formal, and to get the ball rolling, I asked her about how she started her career at Malaysia Airlines.


I’ve been in Malaysia Airlines for nearly 6 years now, having joined in October 2017. My flying career began just like many other pilots, when I entered flying school at the age of 18. Then, I was the only female cadet pilot in my batch, and I had to work hard to prove not just to my peers and my instructors, but also to myself that I was capable of achieving my goal of becoming a full-fledged pilot. 2 years later at the age of 20, I graduated from flying school and joined the ranks of Malaysia AIrlines. When I started off, I was initially type rated on the Boeing 737-800 for the first one-and-a-half years, before switching over to the Airbus A330 (pax and freighter)”

As female pilots, despite a growing push for more diversity in the aviation industry, still remain somewhat a rarity, I asked Vivian what was her inspiration to become an airline pilot. Vivian shared that unlike most pilots, she initially wanted to become an aerobatic pilot, to perform in various air shows and events. However, this dream proved to be too difficult to achieve in Malaysia, where such roles are greatly limited. Hence, she decided on a more conventional role as an airline pilot. Having now settled into her role as a first officer in Malaysia Airlines, Vivian shared:


I love to fly because the cockpit is your office, the skies and the world beneath is your office view everyday. I don’t see myself working in the same spot every day, and my desire for a dynamic and ever changing environment has no doubt guided me to make that decision to become a pilot. With each day bringing me to a different destination with a different colleague, no flight is ever dull, and it does bring a sense of joy and accomplishment to me.”


Having heard that Vivian has trained on both Airbus and Boeing aircraft, I just had to ask the age-old question: Airbus or Boeing?

Well, I preferred flying the Boeing 737 as she does make you feel like you are hand flying an aircraft due to its feedforward and feedback control system, so every bump and yaw does relay back to your senses, and it gives you a very real sensation while flying. In contrast to Airbus’ trademark sidestick, it definitely has a different feel to it, as there is no feedforward and feedback control, and you closely rely on your ability to monitor your instruments. Nevertheless, I am hoping to upgrade myself to the Airbus A350 as a senior first officer.”

Having flown thousands of hours of flights, Vivian shared that working as a pilot certainly has has its drawbacks, as pilots work in shifts and have to sacrifice public holidays and weekends for off-days, which means sometimes pilots can have their sleep cycles disrupted due to odd-hour flights, and is therefore a major challenge for many pilots. However, these tradeoffs are nothing compared to the enjoyment she derives from flying.


We continue chatting about her routine as a pilot. Taking us through from start to shutdown, Vivian shared that her routine, like every pilot, starts with making sure she has adequate rest, adhering to the company’s rest requirements before a flight. Before leaving home or the hotel, she makes sure she has all her items - luggage, license, etc., before heading over to the airport. Once there, she makes sure her iPad is updated and her necessary documents downloaded. There, she attends her pre-flight briefing, checking the weather and route, before heading over to the aircraft to perform her pre-flight check. After that, is the standard routine as all of us aviation geeks would know - route clearance, pushback, engine startup, taxi clearance, followed by taxi and takeoff. For landings, Vivian shared that it’s even more straightforward; once they have arrived at the gate, and engines are shut down, they are free to go once the passengers have disembarked and cargo offloaded.

Having flown to some very amazing locations, I asked Vivian which destination was her favourite. And like Marc in our previous episode, she shared that above all, coming back home is by far her favourite destination, where she is close to her loved ones and friends, and savouring all the familiar sights and scents of home. But aside from her home town in Kuala Lumpur, Vivian shared that her top two destinations to fly to are Hong Kong International and Indian airports like Mumbai and New Delhi, each of them her favourite for vastly different reasons. To Vivian, landing at Hong Kong International is a joy to fly because of their straightforward approaches and efficient air traffic control management, making most of her landings and departures simple and less taxing. In addition, as Hong Kong International is a hub for cargo flights and a gateway to China, there is a vast array of aircraft to sight from her cockpit window whenever she is taxiing. Vivian also noted that Hong Kong International Airport has its unique challenges too:


Sometimes, the weather in Hong Kong can be unpredictable, similar to other airports with challenging weather conditions. There can be wind shear, and sudden heavy downpours that greatly impact visibility. But I’m lucky; in a big aircraft like the A330, the sheer size of the airframe greatly dampens the sudden changes in wind direction, and we have a lot of automation and safety features that help us through such challenging environments, giving us a higher safety margin to operate.”

In contrast, air traffic control at Indian airports often result in challenging flight operations, making for some very unique approach angles, many of which take her over the heavily populate suburbs of the Indian subcontinent, and at the same time making the approach a very interesting one with the multicoloured walls and roofs dotting her approach into Indian airports. Another factor that makes Indian airports some of Vivian’s favourite destinations are her layovers, as she prefers to explore her layover location and experience a local’s life there. With a vast array of food and cuisines, as well as a plethora of local culture of experience, Vivian shared that traveling to India sometimes feels like she’s travelling to multiple different countries as each city has a different culture to behold. As for her layover experiences, Vivian had this to share:


In most, if not all, of my layovers, I love to live like a local, because you get the true blue experience in each and every country, which also includes avoiding the touristy areas. I always believe that since I’m young, I should travel the paths less explored, and get the best experience out of each location. Some of my favourite layover experiences are those which brings about the fondest memories, like the one layover I did in Adelaide during the FIFA World Cup Finals! Boy, the bars were packed with football fans cheering on their favourite team, and you could feel the hype of the moment! Another one of my big moments was meeting Sam Chui at Bombay, and going out planespotting with him!”


But Vivian shared that her great moment in her career as a pilot is to fly her loved ones or friends, an experience that “no other experience can top”.

As we chatted about how the aviation industry has changed during the past few years, one major event was undoubtedly mentioned - the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us aviation geeks would know the fallout the pandemic caused, and the impact it had on hundreds of pilots across the world. I put this question out to Vivian, and she shared that what she experienced was a whole different one although:


During the pandemic, many of us feared we would be grounded, or worse, lose our jobs. But thankfully, while the demand for passenger travel plummeted, the cargo industry experienced a boom like never before, and soon we were rostered for cargo flights, from humanitarian and aid relief flights, to normal air freight deliveries. In fact, I do miss my old roster during the pandemic; we had more flights as turn-around times were shorter, it gave us more opportunities to fly to unique destinations, and for those pilots who had mainly passenger experience, it was a chance for them to learn the reins of the air freight industry. Additionally, the increased overseas travel allows us to have more layovers overseas, giving us more off-days in other countries.”


Like a lot of pilots out there, Vivian is also quite active in sports, sharing that during her off-days she enjoys surfing and skateboarding. However, due to her schedules back in her hometown, she typically surfs and skateboards overseas during her layovers (and hence when she jokes that she prefers her pandemic-roster)


At the conclusion of our interview, I asked my signature question: “What advice would you give to people, particularly females, who wish to become a pilot?” Rather than attempting to paraphrase, I shall give share her thoughts, word for word:

Just don’t be afraid, dare to dream and take that leap forward. The journey is not easy, but it is always worth it. When you’re seated in the front of the cockpit on your first takeoff, there will be an ecstatic feeling that will wash over you, and in your heart, you will know it was all worth it, all your sweat and tears, the years of studying, the hours in the end. After all, your first takeoff is the most memorable; when I took my first ever flight in my Piper trainer aircraft in Malacca back in 2018, it was truly a feeling I have not forgotten since then. I wish all those who aspire to be a pilot, to always remember to dare to dream, because it keeps that drive and fire alive in you as you embark on your flying career, and it will keep you going long after you have completed flight school!



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