The People In Aviation: Born To Fly
Every time on-board an aircraft, you’ll hear the unmistakable chime of the public address system; a calm and slightly muffled voice comes on, welcoming you aboard the flight, and giving you the flight information like weather and flight time. As your flight lines up on the runway, that same voice comes on: “cabin crew, prepare for take-off”, and moments later, you’re pressed into your seat as the engines roar to life, and soon you feel the aircraft fly gracefully up into the sky. Inevitably, one should surely wonder, what is it like to be the person behind the controls, the person who gives your flight briefing; what is it like to be a pilot?
The role of a pilot in the public’s eye often carries a sense of awe and wonder, admiration and envy, of respect and inspiration. We hardly see them, for they spend most of their time in the cockpit and are always the first to arrive and last to leave the aircraft. And yet, they are responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft, guiding thousands of planes every hour through its takeoff, cruise, and landing, through challenging weather and difficult terrain, through the busiest airports in the world, and through the most remote of locations.
In 2013, the International Federation of Air Line Pilot’s Association designated April 26 as World Pilots' Day. And what better way to celebrate this day, than to gain a little insight into the life and experiences of a pilot. We are privileged to have interviewed three amazing pilots, who shared their experiences of their life in the skies.
About THE Pilots
Full-Time Pilot; Part-Time Youtuber
First Officer Mike de Jesus
Current rating: Airbus A330-300/900
First on our list is none other than the host of the YouTube channel PILOTalk Show himself - Mike de Jesus. Born from a family of pilots and aviators, he is indeed the epitome of the phrase “born to fly”; with his grandfather flying fighters and bombers during the Second World War before joining Philippine Airlines, followed suit by his father, who served an impressive 40 years at PAL, flying iconic aircraft like the Douglas DC-4, DC-10, the Boeing 747, and the Airbus A320 and A330.
Mike recollects that his numerous time spent in the cockpit jumpseat with his father helped grow his love for aviation, and when the time came to make the decision whether to join flight school, Mike reminisces how his father encouraged him to take on the challenge and learn to fly. Today, Mike is a first officer at Cebu Pacific, with a type rating for the Airbus A330-300/900, and was previously rated for the A320. In fact, the Plane’s Portrait Aviation Media team had the opportunity to meet him at the Singapore Airshow 2022, where he and his fellow pilots enthusiastically showed us the capabilities of the A330neo on display. Even after many years of flying, Mike does still feel the joy of flying, and he remarked that never once does that feeling get old. He shared the following about his experiences flying the Airbus A330:
“The thrill, the excitement, the rush of adrenaline when you hear the engines roar to life as you put in your take-off thrust. Imagine getting front row seats as the jet accelerates to 250 kph. It’s hard to put down in words the sense of power you have, moving your wrist three inches back and watching this 240 metric ton machine lift its nose and climb thousands of feet per minute. It's addicting and I get chills just talking about it.”
A Member of An Acclaimed Team, Living The Dream
First Officer Joshua Ho
Current rating: Boeing 737-800 NG and Boeing 737-8
Next on our list is F/O Joshua Ho, flying for the prestigious carrier Singapore Airlines. On our tiny island home, most of us have grown accustomed to the sounds of fighter jets roaring overhead during their daily patrols across the skies. For Joshua, these fighter jets weren’t just a routine; they were an inspiration, captivating him as a child. As he learned more and more about aviation in his growing years, he eventually decided to pursue his passion and entered the Singapore Youth Flying Club (SYFC).
While at SYFC, he managed to earn his wings back in 2014 piloting the Diamond DA-40CS in his first solo flight while performing visual circuits around Seletar Airport. After a stint in National Service, he entered flight school and joined the ranks of Singapore Airlines as a first officer. When COVID-19 hit, Joshua found himself grounded for a substantial period of time due to the sharp drop in demand for air travel.
As traffic began picking up, Joshua then returned back to active flying. Currently, Joshua is type rated on the Boeing 737-800 NG and the Boeing 737-8. He shared that in his years of flying, some of his favorite destinations are Kathmandu Airport, for its picturesque scenery, and Hiroshima Airport, but Phuket International Airport takes the top spot for him due to its similarities to Princess Juliana International Airport at Saint Martin with its final approaches taking the aircraft close to the beach.
Joshua remarked that his greatest motivation for flying “is knowing that (he is) part of an international community of professional aviators, and upholding this prestige drives (him) to improve (his) airmanship”.
Captain Lee Juyoung
Current rating: ATR-72-600
Last but not least, we have Captain Lee Juyoung, a true inspiration for aspiring female aviators. Like Mike, Juyoung got her exposure to aviation at a young age as her father worked as a military air traffic controller in South Korea, before transiting to a civilian ATC contractor in Seoul Air Base. With encouragement from her family, Juyoung made a bold decision to enter flight school. Describing her flight training as tough and requiring lots of effort, she eventually graduated from flight school, and soon she was flying for Cebu Pacific in ATR-72-600s, operating numerous short hops across the many islands around the Philippines.
Juyoung shared that throughout her career, she experienced numerous challenges she had to overcome; for one, being a Korean, English was not her native language, and she had to work extra hard to brush up her command of English to effectively communicate. Additionally, despite advances in gender equality in the workforce, she shared that there is still a natural gradient to overcome as a female in the aviation industry, and she had to work hard to compete against her male counterparts.
In 2018, after many hours in the sky and persevering against numerous challenges, Juyoung upgraded to the prestigious role of Captain. As captain, Juyoung often takes the time to mentor young F/Os and student pilots, encouraging and motivating them to be better pilots. She shared that as a captain, one has a responsibility to be a good role model and senior for junior pilots and to always keep on learning and improving oneself. Similarly for herself, she revealed that despite her senior rank, she still continues to learn and be inspired by other captains and their passion for flying, seeing that some senior captains still fly their private aircraft even during their off-duty times.
Expecting the Unexpected
A common mantra amongst pilots is to always prepare for the worst, and expect the unexpected. In-flight, while you have checklists and procedures, you have to know which page to refer to in an abnormal situation, and even amongst some procedures, there are “memory items”, items which you have to know by heart e.g.: engine fire procedure.
This comes in the form of vigorous training, through multiple drills in simulators, exploring different permutations of scenarios, even down to the unlikely, to prepare the pilots for any situations that may befall them in the skies. Mike shared that once during the simulator training, he was thrown with an unlikely scenario of a bird strike coupled with a dual engine failure and fire, followed by an expected runway closure and a gear failure. While most modern aircraft are unlikely to ever experience one of these failures in real life, the purpose of such rigorous training is to ensure that should the worst happen, the pilots know exactly what to do.
The Most Challenging Airports
No airport is created equal, and as we have heard from so many documentaries, some airports are extraordinarily challenging, such as Wellington Airport’s rough and turbulent wind shears and gusts, to Paro Airport’s insane terrain changes on approach. Our panel of pilots shared their own take on challenging airports.
For Mike, flying approaches on the Airbus A320 into Sibulan Airport (RPVD) can be sometimes hair-raising; landing on runway 09 takes the aircraft over mountainous areas and high terrain, which leaves very little room for error, and that can mean that the jarring ground-proximity warning system (GPWS) can sometimes be triggered if the aircraft deviates ever-so-slightly from its glide slope. On top of that, the runway ends very close to the ocean, leaving very little room for error in runway overruns. With these challenges, the pilots have to be very vigilant of the terrain changes and his descent rate; too low, may result in contacting the mountainous terrain during the approach, but overextending the descent may result in late landing, increasing the risk of a runway overrun.
Joshua shared that for him, non-radar environments like Manado Airport (WAMM) are challenging as they often require pilots to resort back to stick-and-rudder skills and require crystal clear communication during their approaches. In Singapore Airlines, it often falls to captains to execute such challenging approaches, and as the first officer, Joshua disclosed that his role is the monitoring pilot, which aside from monitoring instruments and performing checklists, is also to ensure that their positions are communicated and reported to local ATCs. A non-radar environment means that ATC cannot track flight movements in real-time, hence pilots have to maintain a high state of situational awareness at all times
Juyoung, on the other hand, found Busuanga Airport (RPVV) similarly challenging in terms of terrain, with the airport flanked by hills and mountainous terrain. But the terrain indirectly poses another challenge, with the winds being funneled into the area surrounding the airport, creating wind gusts and crosswinds that make approaches difficult. Furthermore, the unstable weather in the area creates low clouds and poor weather conditions, making landings at Busuanga Airport exceptionally demanding.
She also shared about another airport that offers a challenge for most pilots, and that is Camiguin Airport (RPMH), which, unlike most large airports, lacks a control tower and local air traffic controller. Therefore, she has to perform a traffic advisory, where a radio call is made to all traffic tuned in the local frequency to alert nearby aircraft of her intention to perform a landing. Landing at Camiguin Airport also requires pilots to perform an overhead pass to ensure that the runway is clear before landing.
The life of a pilot is often irregular and hectic; sometimes flying across multiple time zones can disrupt one’s sleep patterns, or have jam-packed flight schedules, with flights starting in the wee hours of the morning, and ending long into the night.it is against this backdrop of irregular and grueling schedules that it is imperative that pilots have to stay healthy.
Mike shared that most of his hobbies and interests outside of work lie in the outdoors and a variety of sporting activities ranging from scuba diving to skateboarding to surfing. Similarly, Juyoung loved practicing yoga, badminton, and golf in her spare time, adding that such activities offered her a reprieve and a relief from the stresses of flying. For Joshua, being married with children, his off-time is split between spending time with his family and rock climbing.
It’s All About Learning and Determination
All three pilots shared that their training was tough and grueling, both in flight school and even after they joined the airline inline training. They shared that there will be many challenges in learning, adapting, and familiarizing, on top of the normal work cultures that will exist in most companies. We asked these pilots what would be their advice to those who are keen to join the aviation industry as a pilot, and here is what they have to say:
Being a pilot is not for everyone, but don’t let it stop you from pursuing your passion and dreams in the aviation industry. If you love planes and aviation, there is always a place for you, be it in ATC, ground crews, flight crews, etc. If you have the chance to be a pilot, do grab it and seize the opportunity, for you will never know when the next opportunity will come.
Knowledge, skill, and attitude. Grow your knowledge and shape your education toward aviation, improve your skill by pursuing some form of practical experience and have a positive resilient mindset determined to achieve. The window of opportunity may be narrow for some of us, but don’t give up; be passion-driven.
Keep studying and never give up! Being a pilot is a long-term career, so when you set foot in flight school, know that this will be the start of a very long journey ahead. Most importantly, have a positive mindset and the determination to pull through. I have seen lots of female student pilots give up, and it’s such a pity because some of them were not ready to pull through the tough training.
Flying High in the Sky
Being a pilot is certainly a remarkable career, but as our pilots shared, it is definitely not an easy career. Nevertheless, passion does find a way to overcome challenges, as these pilots, and countless others, have proven. So next time you are on a plane, think about the hours and hours of training the pilots up in the front have to go through to get to where they are today. And if you ever have a chance to meet the pilot in person after your flight, don’t forget to thank him/her!
I would like to personally thank Mike, Joshua, and Juyoung for taking the time to attend our scheduled interviews with them, and to thank Cebu Pacific & Singapore Airlines for facilitating the interviews. It is certainly a fitting start to the “People in Aviation” Series.
Stay tuned for our next article!