King of the Skies

Five of the finest pilots at Air India recall their journey and experience with the airline

A motley group of suave, personable men stand resplendent in dark blue suits as the tarmac blazes in the summer sun. You might begin by considering them individually, noting the differences at first – there is the lively, energetic youth as well as the wise and experienced here – but eventually, you perceive the whole: five of the finest pilots at Air India, whose presence in the cockpit is sufficient reassurance that you’re in good hands. As they compare notes, you begin to discover startling commonalities among them – nearly all of them keep an ear out for the captain’s announcement when they fly as passengers! They narrate their journey with Air India.

CAPTAIN OPENDER SINGH

Joint general manager

Patient and professional, he is a senior captain at Air India and has been with the airline for 25 years. He has over 19,000 hours of flying experience commanding the Airbus 310, Boeing 747, and now flies the Boeing 787 Dreamliner across the globe. During his career flying the Boeing 747, he has had the privilege of flying the President, Vice President and Prime Minister of India, as well as evacuating stranded Indians back to the country. “It has been wonderful to be with Air India; I would not trade it for any other airline in the world” he says.

CAPTAIN ATUL SAMVATSAR

Smart and suave, Samvatsar joined Air India in December 1996. He flies B-777 and has endorsement to fly A 300B4, 310, and the Boeing 747-400 aircraft. He is presently in command of the B-777. His most memorable, cherished and privileged experience was formation flying done on the B-747-400 with Sukhoi fighter jets on the eve of the Air Force Day. When he boards a flight as a passenger, he pays attention to the flying comfort, smooth landing, the duration of a flight and the captain’s announcement and compares it to his own! He shares, “I fly mostly long-haul India-USA nonstop, and being in charge of the Delhi- SFO-Delhi flight is one of the most wonderful experiences so far.”

CAPTAIN SHAILENDRA SINGH

TRI- Airbus fleet and central president, Indian Commercial Pilots Association Singh, a dashing, energetic young man brimming with ideas, joined Air India in 2000. He flies the Airbus 320s and is also an instructor on the A 320 fleet – the 319, 320 and 321 aircraft – flying within India, Southeast Asia and across the Middle East.

“Being with Air India has been a memorable experience. The airline has always been good to its employees and has enabled them to grow. I feel privileged to be among the lucky ones to have been inducted as a co-pilot on the A 320 fleet,” he adds. “The Airbus was the first to induct the fly-by-wire technology that was later adapted by other aircraft manufacturers. A 320 family aircraft is one of the largest selling single-aisle aircraft for medium to short haul operations across the world. The aircraft has a proven safety record and because of its design features, passenger comfort is maximised. The pilot’s input goes through the computer, which assesses whether the command is within the safety parameters, and only then is it implemented.”

CAPTAIN SAMEER MEHTA

Chief of flight operations, Alliance Air Having joined the airline as a junior co- pilot a decade ago, when he was 22 years old, the smart and suave Mehta became captain at 25 and an instructor at 29. He is grateful to the airline for backing him through his career. He is now chief of flight safety for Alliance Air and has been involved in the induction of the new ATR 72-600 aircraft in its fleet, right from test flights to ferrying the new machines from France to India. He was based in Kolkata for three years from where he flew to the northeast, and now flies from his hometown Delhi. According to him, Kullu and Dharamsala are the most challenging yet scenic destinations of all time. “We will shortly be witnessing more additions of ATR-72 aircraft to our fleet which would enhance our reach. The kind of exposure I have received with Air India and its fleet has been fabulous, and I believe there are still many opportunities for me to grow and learn here,” he affirms.

CAPTAIN VS RAJKUMAR

Head of operations, Air India Express Confident, reassuring and softspoken, Rajkumar joined Air India Express in 2004 and flies to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and a few destinations in Saudi Arabia and Jeddah. He avers, “I have grown with Air India Express, which now boasts a fleet of 23 aircraft. I believe we will also be able to achieve CMD Ashwani Lohani’s vision to increase that number to 50.” Talking about Air India Express, he says, “Air India and Air India Express are two completely different services. While the former is the full-service carrier, the latter is the low-cost international wing of the airline. Low-cost carriers are expanding across the world, so I do believe it has a lot of potential going ahead.”

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