Hong Kong – On my trip in December to Cathay Pacific’s home base, Hong Kong, I met up with Captain Mark Smith, whom is working for the airline for more than 20 years! In the first instance Mark would only show me around Cathay Pacific’s flight- and training facilities and he would even let me try a real aircraft simulator! When I talked with Mark I saw that he is so passionated about his job, so he would be the perfect person to give us an inside on how a captain’s life looks like.
Captain Mark Smith was born in Brisbane Australia, where he also grew up. Mark started his career in the Australian Air-Force as a pilot. Ten years later, he chose for a career in the civil aviation. After doing some research and interviews with airlines he chose for a career at Cathay Pacific and moved to Hong Kong in 1998. Starting as a co-pilot, Mark flew the Queen of the skies, the 747-400. Later on he became a Captain on the same aircraft type. After more than 10 years of flying on the ‘Queen’ he had to say farewell to her, as they were sent on a retirement. Mark was retrained to Cathay’s Airbus fleet, flying the A330, A340 and the recently added A350. The last couple of years Captain Mark is using his experience to function as a Flying Training Manager for the airline.
Life at Cathay
What do you do for Cathay Pacific?
So I’m the training manager. Basically I’m responsible for employing new pilots and training them and also keeping the currency and standard of new and current pilots.
Where was your first flight to?
My first flight was a two-day return trip to Los Angeles. So Hong Kong-Los Angeles-Hong Kong.
How often do you fly in comparison to starting pilots?
Well in Cathay you start as a second-officer and you don’t fly that much, you’re like a cruise pilot. The positive thing of this is that you go to many destinations and you are really young and flying the world. Cathay even gives you money for eating and going out and see the place.
For me now, I can choose when I would like to fly because I’m a training manager. I fly approximately once every week or even once every second week.
How long was your training overall?
Training never stops, you are always learning new things. Even now we have two PC’s (computer based training) a year, two RT’s (radiotelephony) and a line check, with that we also have simulator trainings. So at least six or seven times a year you are being trained. No matter how high you are in the company you have to pass the tests so you never stop learning. Even now if I have a simulator test, I will be training so you think it would be easier, but it isn’t. That’s also what one of the big stresses is for a pilot because your license is on the line every test. You can never relax and always have to know all the books and procedures.
Highs and Lows
What is your favorite and your least favorite airport?
Well my least favorite was definitely the old Kay Tak Airport in Hong Kong, because it was the most challenging. Worst airport apart from that would be JFK now, just that there is so much traffic and it’s absolutely chaos which is non-standard. The runways have not normal approaches and it is very busy.
What is your favorite airport?
I grew up in Brisbane so the biggest reward is to fly into your home port. When you know all the area’s and can say that this is the city you grew up in is really rewarding. And Hong Kong of course because then I’m going to my second home.
What was your most memorable flight?
For me that is my first command on the 747. So the training took about six months. When you finally take off and you had the whole crew with you and no one is checking you, that’s kind of surreal.
Do you have a favorite aircraft?
Well in terms of flying it is definitely the 747, but in terms of management perspective it is the A350 because it can do the same as the jumbo but on half the fuel.
What is your favorite and your least favorite destination to fly to?
Actually there is no best or worst. I love discovering new places and cultures but in some places I don’t like to experience the poverty that I have seen in places as in the Philippines and India. For a favorite destination I can’t really choose because every destination has something special and you learn new things and cultures every trip what I really enjoy.
Window or aisle seat?
Window seat of course.
Why did you choose for aviation?
I’m not to sure what it was. When I was young I went to a boarding school which was right next to an air-force base. So in my lunch break I would watch the airplanes take-off and land, I thought that was really cool. From 14 years I guess I knew that I would like to fly.
Why did you choose for Cathay?
To be brutally honest, they paid the most at the time. But for me Cathay was kind of exciting to work for a premium airline and they had the best airplanes. Also they only had the elite pilots which is nice to work for/with.
How many hours have you flown in your life?
At this moment I personally have 17.700 flying hours built up in 29 years. That is more than two consecutive years in the air.
What is the best part about your job?
Best part at this point is that I love training, I love helping people and trying to identify area’s where they are not performing optimally and what they don’t know. I can see it and help them. Of course I also really love flying.
What is the worst part of the job?
Telling some that they have to find an other profession even if it is their life passion. That is always very hard to do.
Do you have tips for future pilots?
Well I just remember when I was learning to fly, I just always believed that I would fly. Deep down I wasn’t a pilot but I always believed that I would be one. So my tip is that you always
have to believe that you will fly one day somewhere, somehow and not worry to much about the program. Just accept that it is going to happen one day and everything will work out.
Do you have any tips for people with a fear of flying?
I do get a lot of passenger with a fear of flying and I would say look at the statistics. Look at the danger of driving or walking across the road, the flying industry is so much safer.
A huge thanks to Captain Mark Smith and Cathay Pacific for making this interview possible.
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