Man behind Fiji’s cockpit prowess

The man who trained Air Pacific's Boeing 747 jumbo jet pilots, check and training Captain Jim Edwards tells his tale during a recent visit to Fiji. Picture: REINAL CHAND

FIJIAN pilots began to command the respect of the global aviation industry since the first locals began flying turbo propeller driven aircraft in the early 1970s.

The transition from turbo props such as the Hawker Siddeley to British Aerospace’s BAC 1-11 jets took Fijian pilots to the forefront of the regional and international aviation sector.

However, it was when legendary local airmen such as Henry Leweniqila, Sakeasi Rokovucago, Matereti Tuisue and Kava Konrote sat in the captain’s seat of the then giant of the skies — the Boeing 747 Jumbo jet in the late 1980s and early 1990s — that international airlines began to take notice of the Fijian prowess in the cockpit.

Their superb handling skills and command of the 370-seat aircraft caught the eye of many an international operator. So now we turn our eyes to one man who played a significant role in the development of our local pilots on the Jumbos.

He was an Englishman called Captain Jim Edwards. If you have a conversation with the Staffordshire-born native today, you will find that he has a passion for all things aviation.

Whether it’s a discussion about his career in the Royal Air Force in the 1950s, or sitting behind the controls of Vulcan MKII high-altitude bombers with 8000 pound free-fall hydrogen bombs in the 1960s, he has been there and done it all.

Mr Edwards also has many a tale to tell about his time as a check and training Captain for Air Pacific (now Fiji Airways) where he trained pilots on the Boeing 747-200 aircraft in the 1990s.

During a recent visit to the country, The Fiji Times caught up with Mr Edwards and heard all about how he got to work and live in Fiji.

“I formed a company called Highland Pacific Crewing with another ex-Qantas captain in October 1990,” the 81-year-old shared. “We decided to establish the company to lease pilots to airlines that needed check and training Boeing 747 captains. “And our first contract, luckily enough, was with Air Pacific (now Fiji Airways). So that brought me to Fiji.”

During his tenure with Air Pacific, Captain Jim trained and checked pilots on a number of routes — Nadi-Sydney, Nadi-Tokyo and Nadi-Los Angeles.

“I had a really great time working with Fijian pilots, they had a very pleasant demeanour and I really enjoyed my stint with the airline.”

Unfortunately, the contract was completed in 1991 and he departed for All Nippon Airlines in Japan.

Mr Edwards did a stint with ANA and Ansett International Airways in Australia before returning to Fiji in 1996.

“I had just turned 60 in August 1996 and according to International Civil Aviation Organisation, I had to retire from commercial flying because this was the age limit at the time.” The airman took to farming in Australia until a telephone conversation with a friend brought him back to Fiji that year. “In September, a pilot friend called me and said the Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji was on the hunt for an inspector with Boeing 747-200 experience. “I did not wait. I got on the next available flight to Nadi and got the job.”

Mr Edwards began working for CAAF in August 1996 and spent 18 years there until he retired in April, 2014. “Coming back to Fiji was the best. But it also meant I had to undergo some extra training to get my skills up to par with the technological advancements of the industry.”

In 1997, he attended an ICAO seminar and workshop in Bangkok on Flight Safety Oversight. Here he learnt the new industry rules and how every civil aviation authority around the world integrated with ICAO.

Mr Edwards was the first in Fiji to ensure the country’s aviation laws complied with 18 ICAO annexes. At this point, he was the only Flight Operations Inspector at CAAF and was responsible for approvals of all check captains and all licensing checks on all aircraft
operating in Fiji.
“I also wrote all the licensing flight and simulator checks for all the aircraft in Fiji and also did checks in the Solomon’s and Tonga — so the 1990s was a very busy time for me.”
Mr Edwards’ contribution to the local industry is unparalleled.
He was promoted to controller air safety at CAAF in October 2002 — where he managed the Air Safety Department and Aircrew Licensing Section.
In March 2003, at 66 years of age, he successfully completed the Boeing 747-400 Type Rating course at Boeing’s training centre in Seattle, in the US.
And it was with this credential that he oversaw the introduction of Air Pacific’s first Boeing 747-400 aircraft in 2003.
Mr Edwards became Senior Flight Operations Inspector in 2008 and he has a proud record of 1423 fl ight checks and audits on 13 different aircraft types in Fiji.
Apart from his pioneering work at CAAF, he managed the introduction of three new airlines in Fiji and conducted investigations into six aircraft accidents and several serious incidents.
In April 2014, he retired from CAAF.
He returned to Australia and then took up some work in Papua New Guinea. But of late, he has been visiting Fiji quite regularly.
One thing that has taken the illustrious airman’s fancy these days is his role as trustee for a mother and child refuge that he holds very dear to his heart — Loloma Home and Care Centre in Sabeto, Nadi.
“The kids there are so excited when they see me,” he shared.
“Loloma Home is my home away from home and the children are like my grandkids — my heart melts every time I get to see them.
“They remind me of the great gift that I have been blessed with and how much we take for granted.”