Living the Dream
The eight-year-old boy gazed in wonder at the aeroplanes flying overhead at the airshow. His parents stood by his side. “I knew I wanted to fly,” says Garth Gray, reminiscing on that moment when he ‘knew’. He confirms that a global pilot shortage is on the cards, making this a fantastic career choice. “I would encourage any young person who has what it takes to ‘live the dream’!” he says.
Gray has served his dues on the path to becoming executive vice-president of flight operations at Air Mauritius. He completed pilot training in the Royal Air Force in the UK, before serving in the UK, Germany and the Caribbean as a VVIP captain flying high-ranking officials, including the Duke of Edinburgh. After 19 years, Gray decided to become a civilian pilot. Blessed with people skills and technical competency, it was a matter of time before he became an instructor and examiner and moved into management.
He worked for three airlines in the UK before joining the UK Civil Aviation Authority as a regulator, a role which he describes as “extremely interesting … I learnt a lot about ‘how it should be done’!” This role brought him to Mauritius as an advisor to the Department of Civil Aviation, before being approached by Air Mauritius to become executive vice-president of flight operations two years ago.
Piloting an Aircraft
Those smart types seated on the flight deck tend to have an aura of mystique about them. Asked what it feels like as the person entrusted with takeoff and landing, Gray responds: “Takeoff and landing are critical phases of the flight. This is when you really need to be focused on the job at hand, because you are close to the ground. You therefore need to react quickly should something happen. We spend many hours practising in the simulator to get it right!”
ively to the organisation,” says Da Silva.
What It Takes
Pilot training is not easy. “I try to address all of our cadets before they go to flight school and tell them they need perseverance, commitment and teamwork,” says Gray. The minimum entry prerequisite for a pilot employed by Air Mauritius is based on international industry benchmarks. In plain speak, the pilot must hold an airline transport pilot’s licence, must have a minimum of about 2 500 flying hours and must hold a Class 1 medical certificate.
A fully qualified pilot who joins Air Mauritius is required to go through an operator conversion course. “This teaches them our standard operating procedures. They also gain an understanding of life in Mauritius,” says Gray.
The flight crew checks that everything meets regulatory requirements before every flight. The check list includes checking that the weather is acceptable for the entire flight, that airports are open, that navigation aids are working, that fuel load is sufficient, and that the passengers and baggage are distributed to keep the aircraft balanced.
“On top of this, they ensure that the aircraft is technically serviceable and that our colleagues in technical services have prepared it for the flight,” Gray explains. “We have a great relationship between the pilots and engineers. We need to trust each other to ensure everything is ready to carry our passengers safely.”
No Nine to Five
Working unusual hours is part and parcel of being a pilot. “If you want to be home every night at the same time, then you need to find an office job,” Gray emphasises. “People want to travel to different destinations at different times, so the aircrew needs to be flexible. Crews generally enjoy travel, but they need to be mindful of the rest of the family left at home. I encourage everyone to take all of their leave each year; in that way, families can stay connected as much as possible.”
The number of hours a pilot flies per month depends on the aircraft flown. “With the short-haul fleets, we try to plan on about 50 hours per month, whilst the long-haul crews do about 80 hours per month,” says Gray.
Change Is the Norm
There is no such thing as a typical work week. Gray’s office is based in Mauritius at the newly named Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport. Much of his time is spent interacting with his flight operations team so that operations run smoothly. Change is a given. “Airlines never stop, and things are always evolving, so we spend much of our time managing change,” Gray points out.
Training the Next Generation
Air Mauritius has two programmes to develop emerging pilots. “The first is the Mauritian pilot development programme where, generally, parents have sponsored their children for the duration of the pilot training course. However, at the end of the course, they may hold a licence but have very little experience, so it can be difficult to find a job,” says Gray. Air Mauritius has taken six such pilots, has given them ‘top-up’ training and they are now flying with the ATR 72 fleet. “The second is the Mauritian Cadet Pilot Programme where we take essentially school leavers with the potential to become captains of the future and sponsor them through to full pilot.”
No Humdrum Profession
Gray enjoys his career. “I have met lots of great people on my journeys,” he reflects. The dynamic nature of aviation appeals to him. “Aviation has changed dramatically over the years with technological developments and pilot training techniques,” he says. His reward is seeing his team at Air Mauritius grasp the need for change and then deliver on it.
There is always the satisfaction of accomplishing a safe flight. Gray explains: “People take for granted that flying is safe. They have a choice of airlines, so it is satisfying to give them a comfortable and uneventful trip so they enjoy flying with us.” All passengers flying Air Mauritius appreciate this.
CASE IN POINT | Air Mauritius
by Samantha Barnes