January , 2018


It Happens Here :>

In the cockpit! Credit: Surreal Gaze

Every living, animate creature in the world shares a common thread in one aspect- Dreaming. All of us dream, of our passions, our goals, our desires and of course, of loved ones. But, how many of us are ready to walk the extra mile to realize our dreams?

Meet Captain Chaitanya Kartheek, a pilot and an instructor with a leading airliner, all at 21 years of age. At an age when guys are busy burning the midnight oil, chalking out plans to woo their girlfriends, Chaitanya Kartheek (CK, as he is affably referred to), is ruling the skies. Having learnt the nuances of flying in America, CK comes across as a fun-loving, no-nonsense guy, who knows what he wants. His Orkut profile screams, ‘Chaitanya flies Twin GE CF34-8E (Jet)’ which underlines the swelling passion he holds for his first love – flying.

Excerpts from the interview:

Surreal: What made you choose aviation sector over all other sectors? Is it because it is unconventional and not many go for it?

Captain: I did it as per my heart’s choice! A passion with no boundaries and the ability to work in an office that’s 40,000 feet high and moves at 1000 kilometers an hour!

Surreal: What is the very reason for this passion? Did people around you talk very highly about flying? Did friends influence you? What is the root cause for this burning passion?

Captain: When I was a kid, I used to travel a lot between Dubai and India. That sparked me to say, “I want to become a pilot when I grow up”, just like any other kid would say at that age. But I went a step ahead and started reading basic books about flying and stuff and on one such trip from Dubai to Trichy, I was lucky enough to have been granted permission to sit in the cockpit by the pilot and that pilot inspired me a lot. In fact, it happened some time in 1999, when I was in 6th standard and that was when I decided I should become a pilot. It was that flight and that pilot, who changed the course of my life. I happened to meet that pilot again in the same flight in 2008 between the same cities and this time, he recognized me by my name! He still inspires me a lot! I still remember the words he used when I was sitting in the cockpit for the first time, “Chaitanya, you are born to become a pilot”.

Standing Tall! Credit: Surreal Gaze

Standing Tall! Credit: Surreal Gaze

Surreal: Name of that pilot?

Captain: Not possible on the records… he is one of the senior most commanders in Air India today at an age of 40! An absolute achiever!

Surreal: How did your parents react, when you told them you wanted to be a pilot all of a sudden? Were they taken aback by your decision?

Captain: Well, they knew I was very interested in Aviation and Airplanes but initially, they were a little apprehensive about it because of the lack of awareness in this field! All that people do nowadays is become either a doctor or an engineer. I’m not saying its bad, but one should listen to what his heart says to be super successful in life and that’s exactly what I did. I really need to thank my parents with out whose support I wouldn’t have made it to the sky! Also, I would like to thank the Trichy airport’s air traffic controllers, who were also very helpful in making me realize my dreams.

Surreal: What exactly did they do?

Captain: In my schooling, I had done a project about radars for which I went to meet them at the airport. They were so inspired with my interest in aviation, that they really added invaluable information to my passion. I was frequently invited to the control tower, which otherwise was a prohibited area and was taught a lot about aviation. It was a great experience watching planes take off and land from their workplace.

An eagle's eye view of the Reno Lake Tahoe Airport's runway Credit: Surreal Gaze

An eagle's eye view of the Reno Lake Tahoe Airport's runway Credit: Surreal Gaze

Surreal: It’s anything but prudence to acknowledge that India has some of the best facilities for training pilots. What’s your take on this?

Captain: That used to be true but, in the last two years, there seems to be a sudden surge in the aviation training facilities coming up in India. We have started to get better infrastructure but I can definitely say there is a lot of catching up to do especially in comparison with United States, a country which has authorized me to even teach flying!

Surreal: What? Did you say you were authorized to even teach flying by the US of A? Then, why did you come back to India?

Captain: Yes, I was authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration of the US Govt. as a Certified Flight Instructor with authorization to teach on Single Engine Aircraft, Instrument Training, and Multi Engine Aircraft. But despite that, my principle in life is if I ever pay taxes then it has to be to my own country. That’s the reason I came back to India!

Surreal: Pretty convincing! Did you find any change in your friends’ attitude when you took up this course? How have they been? Supportive / protective / warned you against this?

Captain: Well, all my friends were either in engineering or medical colleges. So they really knew nothing about what I planned to do. In fact, when I told them I was taking off; they were equally excited because they all knew where I would shine the best!

Surreal: By the way, how much does an average pilot of a domestic airline earn? How far can his earnings go?

Captain: It doesn’t really matter if it’s a domestic airline or an international airline. All that matters is the experience of the pilot. Every pilot passes through various phases in his airline career- he starts of as a first officer at a monthly pay packet of about 1.5 lacs to being the chief pilot of an airline who, in some airlines, make upto 9 lacs a month!

Man and machine Credit: Surreal Gaze

Man and machine Credit: Surreal Gaze

Surreal: Whoaa… Engineers don’t earn that amount all through the year!

Captain (laughs): Also, being a pilot does not necessarily mean a person, who flies an airliner. He can also be a charter pilot, corporate pilot, flight instructor, etc. There are various options.

Surreal: How old are you?

Captain: 21

Surreal: What’s your say on the risk factor that comes along with being a pilot? You might be involved in a crash even before you know it.

Captain: It’s riskier to walk on Hyderabad’s roads than becoming a pilot; forget driving there!

Surreal: It’s a known fact that one needs to incur a huge amount of money for undergoing pilot training. Does this mean that pilot training is meant only for the privileged?

Captain: Well, like it or not, currently, that’s a bitter truth. Pilot training is costly as it involves a lot of factors in the operations of the flight school; especially ATF (Aviation Turbine Fuel) and maintenance costs. All airplanes have to be maintained to the highest standards in order for them to be airworthy to fly. So, it’s a costly affair… But let’s hope things change in the future. As of now, any person who wants to become a pilot should be prepared to spend anywhere between 20-25 lakhs.

Surreal: Do you think this is the reason for the celebrity status the aviation industry enjoys, because it belongs to the privileged?

A view of the Sommerset Airport, New Jersey Credit: Surreal Gaze

A view of the Sommerset Airport, New Jersey Credit: Surreal Gaze

Captain: Being a pilot does not stop with flying. It involves a lot of aspects such as understanding the aerodynamics, technical aspects of the airplane, and to top it all, the ability to cope up with emergencies. Also, the pilot exams in India are one of the toughest in the world and a tough nut to crack. So only people with interest as well as the skill can make it up there. Aviation has earned its elite status because man was not meant to fly but there are always super humans who do it; not every one can do it.  No pilot would talk about his money in aviation but only about his planes and that’s what makes him elite. I am passionate about the skies and being up there, and that’s what I’ve been doing and I’ll be doing for the rest of my life; being up there!

Surreal: What do you think about the responsibility that comes along with being a pilot? Hundreds of things are going on in your mind all the time and you have hundreds of people counting on your ability to fly. Does it affect your performance, anytime?

Captain: Nope, it’s all there and we are extensively trained to cope up with different scenarios. We are subjected to rigorous testing in frequent intervals, and are tested both on flying and technical aspects of an aircraft. Also, we are subject to intense medical testing every year. So there is no margin of error.

Surreal: Hey, tell me about the air hostesses, their charm n aura.

Captain: I’m not commenting on cabin crew. I mean, professionally, it ain’t rite. But one thing I can say is it’s always good to have beautiful girls behind you!

Surreal: Lastly, what’s your advice for all the budding pilots?

Captain: Listen to your heart and if your heart is up there, then sky is not the limit!

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