Wings of fire

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Wings of fire

Sunday, 02 May 2021 | MUSBA HASHMI

Wings of fire

April 26 was World Pilot’s Day. To mark the ocassion, MUSBA HASHMI catches up with RIJU KOCHHAR and SAHIL DEWAN for a sneak peek into the making of a pilot, challenges associated and how this glamarous career has much more to it

Many of us might have wondered who is behind the enchanting voice of the Captain that we hear before the plane takes off and lands. And it is nothing short of a sweet surprise to see the man in the uniform at the arrivals. The sheer  pleasure of seeing the pilot leaves us with an urge to join the aviation industry sooner than later.

While it is rare that you get a chance to exchange words with a pilot, Riju Kochhar, Senior Captain, IndiGo and Sahil Dewan, Captain on Airbus A320, IndiGo are here to tell you what goes into the making of a pilot.

Kochhar started his flying career with the Indian Air Force in 1994 and after 21 rewarding years joined IndiGo in 2016. “I started my journey as a Military pilot and soon realised that being a pilot is strenuous and extremely demanding. A pilot has to strictly adhere to the laid down SOPs with no compromise whatsoever since there is hardly any room for error. My transition as a pilot from Air Force fatigues to the IndiGo Blue was a smooth one courtesy the help and support extended to me by my seniors, instructors and supervisors who all went out of the way to make me feel at home and comfortable in the new environment,” he says.

However, getting a pilot’s wings is not easy, he says. One has to go through the rigours of tough training.

“It requires wholehearted focus and dedicated efforts to hone your sensory and motor skills, develop retention capacity, a calm and a cool head display of quick thinking and decision making. Last but not the least is self-discipline since a pilot has to shoulder a high degree of responsibility each time he sits in the cockpit,” Kochhar tells you.

Modern day aircrafts are state of the art, highly expensive and complex machines. As such complacency has no room in a pilot’s scheme of things as lives and safety of hundreds of passengers and their families is at stake, he adds.

The only thing that Kochhar dislikes about his job is getting up early in the morning. “I am not a morning person. Though our shifts are carefully prepared and are a mix of day, night and morning flights, but the early morning flights definitely hurt a bit,” he says.

You might have wondered, how do pilots react to the challenging situations while being up in the air. Do they panic, stress or just handle everything at ease? “Since flying environment is highly dynamic, you do face challenging situations. Being a trained professional, a pilot has to react to them using all his skill, experience, training, laid down SOPs coupled with his decision making abilities and a high degree of situational awareness to safely handle them keeping all aspects of flight safety in mind. Having said that, as pilot is also a human being, he too would have stress at times, but then it is a positive stress and with good team work and all the tools at his disposal he learns to tackle and address it,” he explains.

He recalls an incident when he faced a critical emergency at 27,000 feet up in the air. However, his quick thinking and the ability to land safely earned him the Presidential Gallantary Award for his skills.

“During my stint with IAF, I did face a critical emergency—an explosive decompression with main door opening at 27,000 feet and 42 passengers on board. The emergency required adept handling and quick thinking and fortunately I was able to bring the aircraft safely down and land without any loss of life or any damage to the aircraft. I was conferred with a Presidential Gallantry award for this,” he tells you.

For the aspiring pilots, Kochhar has words of wisdom to share. “Never let go of your dream, keep looking at the skies, stay focused, determined and one day you will certainly get the coveted wings on your chest,” he says.

He has message to share on the occasion of World Pilot’s Day. “Whenever you see a pilot’s uniform, always remember to greet and smile.  Behind that glamour is an intent to make your journey safe and worth while,” he says.

For those who wonder how to get into this field, Dewan says, the process starts in Class XII only. “The first step is to make sure you have Maths and Physics in Class XII. After that, you can stay in India and start your training or go to a foreign country. If you are training abroad, then there’s a process of converting your foreign license to Indian one. The training takes about a year or a year-and-a-half. After the training is completed, the candidate usually gets recruited by an airline. After that, you will have to train for a particular aircraft. There is a separate four-month training that yoi have to go through to clear as a First Officer. Moving ahead, after having four years of experience you can appear for a Captain’s exam followed by another three-month training,” Dewan explains.

A captain is allowed to fly till he is completely fit or before he reaches his retirement age.

Contrary to the popular belief, Dewan says, the Captain’s job is relaxed. However, there are certain situations that can prove challenging, but they are trained to handle such situations.

“It is true that a pilot’s job is glamorous, but with great freedom comes great responsibility. There are a lot of challenges one faces from the moment he decides to become a pilot and till the date he becomes one. It wasn’t easy for me too. I did my training in 2008 and after that the world faced a major recession period. I had to wait for a long time to get my job,” he tells you.

The odd working hours, he says, surely take a toll on their lifestyles, but having said that all airlines work according to the DGCA guidelines and make sure that they are proving ample rest to the pilots.

“The shift timing variation is applicable across all departments that work at the airport. But we are given ample of time to rest and spend time with our families. It is difficult in a way that there are times we feel we are not rested enough, but it is easy too because we have options to inform the company and apply for a leave well in advance. We do have stand by pilots in case of emergencies,” Dewan explains.

Ask Dewan about a thing that he likes and dislikes about his job and he is quick to answer — flying is a profession that needs to be enjoyed day in and out. “No pilot will ever say that he is sick and tired of flying. There’s nothing that I dislike about my job. But the one thing that I love the most is once the flight lands, I don’t have to take my work home. Once I am home, I am just there for my family,” he says.

With the pandemic, the situation is grim and the biggest challenge the  pilots are facing is to keep themselves safe and continue to do their job diligently.

“Aviation has been hit the most by this pandemic. The load factor (the number of passengers per aircraft) is less and people are avoiding all kinds of travel. But the airlines are making sure to take care of the pilots, the cabin crew and the ground staff. There is a strong message that we give out, it is that the 6E family is there for each and every team member and their families,” he says.

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