Friday, June 19, 2009

Yes, everyone can fly

18 June 2009 WHEN AirAsia’s popularity was on the rise a few years ago, rumours were aplenty about how some of its cabin crew was made pilots and the sort.

Although it was the butt of jokes for many, little did people realise that there was much truth behind those rumours.

AirAsia employee Ong Sook Min’s career progress is a fine example.

She began her career at the low-cost airline as a flight attendant before she was accepted into its training academy to be trained as a cadet pilot.
But Sook Min is no plain Jane with a secondary school qualification. The engineering degree graduate turned up at the AirAsia cabin crew interview only to be asked to apply for the cadet pilot position instead.

She agreed and while waiting for an acceptance letter from AirAsia to join the cadet pilot programme, she took up the cabin crew job for six months.

“I’ve always dreamt of being a pilot. Later I learnt that neither our national carrier nor neighbouring Singapore Airlines employ any female pilots.

“I put that ambition aside to focus on becoming an engineer instead. Today, thanks to AirAsia, which is the only low-cost airline in the region to employ female pilots, I have achieved my dreams,” said the contented-looking young woman.

Her journey into was no easy task.

The preliminary selection process for the cadet pilot programme consists of a qualifying exam on physics, mathematics, English and IQ.

The second interview is a psychomotor and aptitude test. This is followed by an oral interview where two captains would ask the interviewee mental calculations.

“You won’t be allowed to use your fingers, either to count or even calculate in the ‘air’ as you sum up the equations,” said Sook Min.

That arduous filter is only for a qualifying round.

“Only when you pass those three interviews and the exams, it’s then off to the flying academy,” said Sook Min.

She was sent to the Malaysian flying academy in Malacca for her 18-month course.

After graduating from the flying academy, she was back at the AirAsia Academy for the Airbus A320 Type rating, which is a ground school where the cadet pilot learns everything about flying the Airbus A320.

“I learnt about the Maintenance Flight Training Device and went through seven simulator sessions. Having passed this, I had to sit for a skills test and then, an endorsement test. Only after passing the endorsement do you get to fly the Airbus 320,” she said.

With more than 2,700 hours of flight time logged so far, Sook Min is just 800 hours away from becoming a captain. The senior flight officer has to sit for another set of tests before she earns the title captain.

“I hope I’ll be promoted to captain by the middle of next year,” she said.

AirAsia has 19 female pilots and three are in line to becoming pilots soon. Sook Min is one of them.

“AirAsia eliminates stereotypes and prejudices, so it has given me an opportunity to realise my dream. I’m thankful for the opportunity and its wonderful work culture,” she said, reflecting on the “everyone’s important” and “stay humble” credo that was put in place by its CEO, Datuk Tony Fernandes.

Another interesting people-development story at AirAsia has to be the career growth of Azhar Jaffri.

This flight attendant started his career as a ramp agent, loading and unloading bags, tagging them and even latching on the pax steps, those passenger steps that enable passengers to board and leave a plane easily.

From a back-end or backroom job in which he served for five years, Azhar was asked by his boss if he would like to try for a cabin crew job when it was offered internally first.

“I was initially reluctant but decided to give it a try. I attended the interview and was accepted into the AirAsia Academy to start my training as a cabin crew,” he said, adding that he now enjoys flying around the region, an exposure that has opened up his world to a breadth of knowledge.

Even the cabin crew are required to undergo a series of training modules and tests before they get to become a part of the Airbus A320 cabin crew.

His next aim is to become a senior flight attendant and move on to the bigger A330 and long-haul flights.

Azhar looks contended with his present job that rewards him four times more than what he earned as a ramp boy.

Flight attendant Thasikala’s life couldn’t have taken a better turn, too, if it had not been for her employer’s focus on people development.

She started her career at the LCCT as a contract wheelchair worker before she was offered a job as a Guest Service Assistant, doing check-ins and printing boarding passes.

She enjoyed her job there for 5½ years. Seeing her good customer service skills, her boss suggested that she apply for a cabin crew position.

Enjoying similar career advancement in the same workplace is Samantha Wong.

The former financial department assistant has moved on from her rather mundane number-crunching job to taking to the skies with much enthusiasm.

“Meeting all sorts of people was something I couldn’t experience at my desk job. I love my job now,” she mused.

Sook Min has realised her dream of becoming a pilot at AirAsia.

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