This is your captain speaking

  • Education
  • Sunday, 12 Jan 2003



IN an emergency, a pilot once addressed his passengers: 

“This is Captain Smith speaking. On behalf of my crew I'd like to welcome you aboard ABC Airways flight 602 from Kuala Lumpur to Los Angeles. We are currently flying at a height of 35,000 feet midway across the Pacific Ocean.  

If you look out of the windows on the starboard side of the aircraft, you will observe that both the starboard engines are on fire. If you look out of the windows on the port side, you will observe that the port wing has fallen off. If you look down towards the Pacific Ocean, you will see a little yellow life raft with three people in it waving at you. 

That's me your captain, the co-pilot, and one of the air stewardesses. This is a recorded message. Have a good flight!” 


JOKES aside, having a high-flying career ferrying hundreds of travellers around the world is all about responsibility. Its serious business being a pilot. The highest level of professionalism has to be maintained at all times. It’s not a career just for anyone. But for those who have a passion for airplanes and flying, this is the career for you,” says Capt Adrian Arul, a pilot with a wealth of flying experience currently with Malaysia Airlines. 

“We pilots love our jobs. There’s no two ways about it. Pilots fly airplanes, love doing it and want to do it over and over again. The job is so much fun!” he adds. 

From flying helicopters transferring Terengganu’s oil workers to their off-shore rigs; delivering goods and providing “flying doctor” services to rural communities in Sabah; and flying commercial airplanes across the globe, Capt Arul has done it all. 

“And there’s not one experience that I regret,” he claims. 

The career is lucrative enough depending on what sort of pilot or which airline one works for and the job prospects, great. 

Arul’s advice to would-be pilots: “Keep the dream alive and ignore those people who say the job is dull, because I’ve been in it for 20 years and would go another 20 if I could!” 


What qualifications do you need

There are three ways to become a pilot. 

The first option is applying to join an airline immediately after secondary school, where your training costs will be borne entirely by the airline. But the catch is that you will have to serve the airline for a pre-determined number of years after obtaining your commercial flying licence. 

Alternatively, if you come from a wealthy family, there’s what I call the ‘FAMA’ (father-mother) scholarship – that is, having your folks fork out around RM250,000 for pilot school. 

As a third option, you could join the air force and fly jets! 

I took a roundabout way to get where I am today – a captain with MAS. My parents played a very important role as they supported me from the day I showed a serious interest in flying. 

After secondary school, I joined the Sabah Flying Club where, halfway through my private flying licence course, the Sabah Foundation offered me a scholarship to obtain a commercial flying licence. 

The main difference between the two licences is that with a commercial flying licence, you get paid for flying! 

I spent the next one-and-a-half years at the Singapore General Aviation Service and obtained my commercial flying licence. 

Since then, I have flown for a number of companies, including the 10 years I have been with MAS so far. 


What does a pilot do

An airline pilot’s job basically entails getting an airplane from point A to B as economically, safely and comfortably as possible. You want to keep passengers coming back so everything has always got to be at its best – be it passenger comfort or aircraft safety. 

MAS employs such stringent security measures that even if there is one thing wrong with an aircraft, it does not leave the ground. And it is the pilot’s job to do the final check to ensure the plane is fit for flying. 


Describe a typical day at work

A typical day often begins the day before a flight. We need to be adequately rested before a flight, especially if it is a long haul flight. This means getting enough sleep the night before. It could also mean slowly “changing” our days to nights as we prepare for different time zones.  

When given a particular flight, we have to ensure we know all aspects of it, including the special procedures for flying in different climates. Before certain flights we go through our books to refresh our memories about flying in different conditions, etc. 

On the day itself, we are given our route and briefing at the airport’s operations centre after which we proceed to our aircraft. 

Then we have to confirm that the aircraft is suitable for flying. This includes doing a “walk around” to see that everything is as it should be. 

The captain and first officer (co-pilot) then set up the route on the onboard computers, crosscheck items as a final check, meet with the cabin crew and prepare to receive passengers. 

During the flight, a pilot has to see that the aircraft is responding the way it should. Today’s planes are all automated, so we just have to monitor things and try to perhaps improve our route for more efficient or comfortable travel. 

For long flights there are always two sets of crew, so while one is working the other is resting. I fly MAS’s Airbus fleet so the maximum flying time is about 10 hours, which is manageable for one set of crew. 

Between flights, all pilots must observe a mandatory minimum rest period of 12 hours. In almost all cases, though, the rest period is much more than that. We have to always be at our best. 

I am also a trainer and authorised examiner for the Airbus A330 fleet, so when I’m not flying I’m often training cadet pilots and monitoring exams.  

What sort of personality best suits this job? 

Definitely someone who is motivated, dedicated, professional, disciplined, people friendly and has a lot of integrity and, of course, someone who loves to travel. 

Professionalism is maintained at a very, very high level in the aviation industry as we are dealing with the lives of hundreds of passengers each day. There is the fun side where we get to travel around the world but work is work! 

Discipline is another important factor as pilots always have to be in the best of health. Those of us below 40 must undergo a full medical check-up annually, while for those above 40, it’s twice a year. 

Besides, pilots must also ensure they are adequately rested before flights and not under the influence of alcohol while flying. If you fail the random breathalyser test, it’s the end of your career. 


What’s the best part of your job

The travelling and people you meet. You get to travel to all sorts of destinations as a pilot. I have served communities from the Sabahan interior to large cities overseas. 

People we meet on flights always make the journey so enjoyable. It is not only the passengers but also the crew that make flying so much fun. From the engineering, catering and cleaning staff to cabin crew and engineers, we are all one big happy family.  


What’s the worst part

I would have to say it’s missing Christmas, birthdays, weddings and other events. We can take leave for some occasions but not all. It really depends on which travel period we’re in. During peak periods, things are hectic. 


What is the income range

Well, it depends on where you’re employed. At MAS, a cadet pilot starts with about RM800. Once qualified, a pilot here starts earning about RM3,000 plus allowances (depending on destinations flown.) At the high end, a senior captain flying a Boeing 747-400 would earn in the range of RM18,000 plus allowances. 


What are the career prospects

The prospects are good. But it all depends on what you make of your career.  

In my 20 years of flying I have flown all sorts of aircraft including helicopters. For airline pilots, promotion from first officer to captain should take between 10 and 11 years.At the end of the day attitude counts. Pilots lead a very different lifestyle due to their unpredictable schedules and have to adopt a good attitude towards it. 

Let me put it this way, there’s no pilot I know who does not love his job. Do learn more about it if you’re interested in a career in flying – you’ll go places! 

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