Juggling act for pilot

Captain Henry Stephen. Picture: Atu Rasea

Captain Henry Stephen. Picture: Atu Rasea

CAPTAIN Henry Stephen has spent 833 days of his life in the sky. This is after joining the then Air Pacific, now Fiji Airways, as a young pilot in 1982.

Thirty-seven years on, Stephen boasts a record of 20,000 flying hours — flying people to and from their destinations all over the world.

Stephen is part of the Team Fiji contingent to the 2018 Commonwealth Games as section manager for the Fiji Shooting Association.

Despite a busy schedule, he managed to land in Gold Coast, Australia for the duration of the two-week Commonwealth Games.

“It has been a juggle working as a pilot and then contributing towards the sport of shooting. Fiji Airways has made a profit and it is a lot of expansion and it requires a lot of needs by its pilots,” he said.

“The management team and a lot of us had to put up our hands and do the extra yards. I have been given the sporting leave of absence and topped it up with the annual leave.

“It is a bit of juggle, but the important thing is if you work with a management who are approachable, which our management is, I have been able to juggle it.”

Stephen, while the wings of his Airbus supports him to fly over to another country, his two sons Christian and Quintyn are with him to fly Fiji to gold medal wins at the games.

After the Commonwealth Games, Stephen will fly back to Fiji and then go to Singapore for work purposes.

“I would come out of Gold Cost on April 16 and then go to Singapore, so actually I won’t come home.

“The chartered flight that comes from Gold Coast to Nausori on April 16 will drop the athletes; however, I will stay on that aircraft and go to Nadi.

“I would fly off to Singapore as a passenger.”

Stephen is a captain of an A330 Airbus and also conducts proficiency tests on the pilots.

“The biggest achievement for me would have to be the ability to continue to have uneventful flights, where my crew and passengers arrive at their destinations safely. To date, the national airline has a proud safety record of not having lost a hull (aircraft) or involved in a fatal accident,” he said.

“I am only one member of a team of fellow professionals, and as the captain of a flight, I am tasked with the leadership of the crew, but am reliant upon every crew member to play their part in conducting the flight safely.”

He says he loves his job to fly from one country to another as he described flying as “part and parcel of everyone’s life”.

“I haven’t known anything else but flying. Every flight is different. Every crew member you may know and every scenario is different, the weather, the challenge — that makes it more interesting,” he said.

“Travelling is part and parcel of an airline pilot’s professional career. It is not as glamorous as some people may think. The discipline required is the same for any profession. As a pilot we are tasked to conduct a commercial flight safely, from departure to destination. An important part of our training involves the handling of an abnormal situation, not that this is a regular occurrence in flight, but as a pilot we are trained and prepared to handle such situations, should they arise.

“A routine flight would require various levels or periods of intensity and concentration. For example, during a take-off phase and landing phase. The remainder of the flight could be considered mundane, where the automation is being monitored by the pilot, which is when one can sit back and enjoy a cup of coffee. But should things go wrong, the discipline and training that every pilot undergoes will come into play.”

Stephen, 58, said the passengers always gave credit to the pilots for safely grounding the aircraft but there are a lot of people who work behind the scenes.

“You can get time to sit back and have a cup of coffee when the things are going right but when it goes wrong then you got to start thinking, it is part of the training every pilot goes through without exception. It is my 37th year of flying,” he said.

“They call it CRM (crew resources management), it is something pushed along in this field and many other fields as well. When we have a problem we gather all the information and a decision is made, but it is a collective decision. One person has to be responsible with the collective decision in the interest of the safety and the situation at hand.

“There are also resource person on the ground that you can consult so you are not alone as there are phones which you can pick up and call the duty captain who is sitting in the office.

“The duty pilot who is not in the environment, but a little more relaxed who can probably see the situation in adifferent angle.

“At the end of the day the passengers credit the pilots for putting the aircraft on the ground safely and if it was not for the information and the resources available then they could not have been in such a position to get the job done.”

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