Being a pilot in these uncertain times: Raghav Pandey, Air Asia Captain

It is definitely the toughest time for the airline industry and its employees since the time aviation is used for commercial activity, writes Pandey.


Being an airline pilot for the last 10 years. My pilot journey started back in 2008 when I went to San Francisco California for my pilot training. Back then I was a young 18 year old full of energy ready to start training for my dream job of an airline pilot. I started my training on a Cessna C-172 which is the most famous trainer aircraft in the world. Little idea I had about this pilot training but one thing I had already imagined to be in that airline pilot uniform and fly the big jets.

My training took approximately 8 months to finish and I obtained my American FAA commercial pilot license. Next step was to fly back to India and obtain Indian CPL after clearing a few exams like navigation, meteorology & air regulations which makes you eligible to apply for airlines in India and join as a first officer so-called co-pilot.

Though the recession of 2008 already started to show the effect on Indian market, there were negligible amounts of jobs for a fresh pilot without any previous experience. Thanks to Indigo’s order of 100 + 180 Airbus jets I was hired as a junior first officer in 2011. After that there was no looking back in my airline pilot career. 

After a few thousand hours of experience on airbus modern jet I became a commander at the age of 24 on an Airbus A-320. It was a dream come true for me to become a captain at such a young age.

I was flying the most modern 100 million dollar jet for my living. Flying to domestic & international destinations where I have never been before. The best part about flying is the bird eye view of cities, mountains, rivers, oceans, international borders, MT Everest and many more beautiful scenic views.

Airline pilot’s life is very different from any person with a ground job or any 9-5 job. Over here I will just speak out of my experience which is 9 years as airline pilot in Airlines in India and total of 13 years in aviation. 

So let’s come to what are the good things and bad things related to this profession, positives and negatives.

Let me start with the points of which are critical for an aircraft pilot:

1. It is a high risk job. Definitely it is. Any mistakes made there are no retakes. Any kind of error on pilots' part which is also commonly known as pilot error directly affects the safety of the passenger, crew and the freight and other human life and infrastructure around. 

2. It is also one of the most stressful jobs in the world. Google searches for the most stressful jobs in the world, and an airline pilot Job will pop up in top 3. Reason is that you are incharge of a very advanced and sophisticated machine with a few hundred lives at 36000 feet and the complete responsibility is vested in you. 

Whether it’s increasing air traffic and maintaining a proper distance with other airplanes, avoiding large weather cells which are every year becoming more unpredictable due to global warming, new age drones. I remember well, a few years back there was a drone spotted near the airport and I was about to take off waiting on the runway in Delhi when the complete Delhi airspace was shut down for a good 45 minutes. I had to shut down both engines on the runway as the delay was not determined. After the Indian airforce cleared the airspace for operation we got permission to takeoff. 

Every takeoff and landing is different for the reason the ever changing weather patterns, wind conditions, wind shears, rain, busy airfields, bird activity, bad visibility and so on, the list is exhaustive. Fun fact-- the time when we start the engines till 10000 feet after takeoff and while coming in for landing from 10000 feet till the engines are shut, this period is called sterile cockpit. That means nobody disturbs pilots during those times as the workload is the highest and it's a very critical time too.

3. Learn to stay away from your loved ones. The nature of the job always keeps you on the move. For the last one decade, I have hardly spent any festivals at home with my family. You have to plan your complete year well in advance as your life depends on monthly flying rosters.

4. Your sleep pattern goes for a toss because today you can be flying a very early morning flight, tomorrow maybe afternoon and next day even an all-nighter, in aviation terms called red eye flights. Due to this ever changing routine comes health problems. So you have to really take care of your health on priority. The best I do to maintain that is a good balanced diet and my gym workouts without giving it a miss. 

I think these are the major drawbacks of this profession. Now let’s come to the exciting part. The good part about an airline pilot profession:

1. That amazing feeling of flying. That feeling of being at control of a powerful jet engine aircraft. It’s a very different feeling all together. Not like most of the other jobs in the world. Personally speaking when I fly I forget about all the worries of the world and my complete attention is towards the joy of flying and of course with responsibility which goes without saying. And of course who doesn’t love pilot uniforms. The respect comes from within. 

2. Also a good part about this job is the money. You are paid quite decently as compared to any other profession, especially the starting salary and the growth is also fast thanks to ever growing Indian aviation and world aviation markets. World is becoming a small place with more people wanting to travel and so many airlines serving that purpose. You can have a good lifestyle very early in your life which is also a dream for a lot of young professionals.  

3. People generally spend a good chunk of their money on travelling. Myself being a pilot is actually paid by the airlines for travelling the world. And also your immediate family members get the benefit or discounted tickets. 

4. Last but not the least, who wouldn’t enjoy the bird eye view of the world from their office. I always tell the young pilots who fly with me that it’s more than 10 years in this profession I still enjoy everyday as much as I did back then. Every takeoff and landing is different and exciting. Beautiful uninterrupted views of sunrise, sunsets,mountains, beautiful weather phenomena, oceans, waterfall it’s all so beautiful. 

So coming to the global Pandemic Covid-19 and how this has affected the aviation industry in India and around the world. 

As we are all aware that airlines all around the world have taken early and the biggest impact from Covid-19 Pandemic. 

Lot of airlines have already filed for bankruptcy, a lot of airline employees have already lost jobs and a lot of them have been put on leave without pay. 

There have been salary reductions throughout the industry. 

Reason is simple: Aviation has always been a difficult industry to make profits due to expensive turbine fuel cost, cost of aircraft lease, airport and parking charges, heavy cost of training of employees and competitive pricing of ticketing with the entry of low-cost airlines players. 

Specifically talking about Indian aviation the airlines in India have not been flying passengers for the last 60 days approx due government guidelines during lockdown. 

Airlines will only make money when these aircraft are in air with passengers and cargo. For an airline there is no option of work from home ( on a lighter note ). 

With the new norms in place for social distancing, I doubt that you can fill up the aircraft to its maximum capacity with passengers. And to make profit in a particular sector, you need a certain amount of occupancy, below which you will rather make a loss. 

It is definitely the toughest time for the airline industry and its employees since the time aviation is used for commercial activity. 

International borders have been sealed and the tourism industry has taken the biggest downfall. The only hope for Indian aviation is that India domestically has a very large passenger traffic, if we are able to resume daily domestic flights with limited restriction, and some help from the government, there is a chance of revival. For international airlines like Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, etc there all the flights are to international destinations which will depend on the countries whether they will open the airspace for international airlines or not.  

The situation for airlines and tourism all around the world will start to improve only after antidote / vaccine for Covid-19 is found.

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air asia pilot Covid 19 airlines tourism

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