The great Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been and there you will always long to return.”
True to his vision, mankind has always had a fascination with flying. There is just something special about watching a plane take off that never fails to excite us. We can stand there and watch them fly by us for hours on end and never get bored of it. At least I don’t! But imagine if you take to the skies because it is your job, your career. Flying high up amongst the clouds and visiting exotic destinations all over the world. Wouldn’t it be a dream come true?
Well one of our alumnus, Desmond Chan, has been living that dream. A graduate from the now defunct Diploma in Telecommunications in 1998, he has been a commercial pilot with Singapore Airlines for the past five years. Humble and amicable, Desmond is not in possession of that infamous “pilot aura” that the movies often suggest. A true testament to never giving up on your dreams, Desmond was an absolute joy to interview. Read on and find out more about his amazing journey to becoming a pilot!
Desmond’s passion for flying began at an early age. “My passion for flying came about when I was selected to go for a science camp as a Secondary four student. As part of the camp, we visited the youth flying club and were taken for a flight in a piper single propeller plane. It was then that I knew I loved flying and that it was something I could definitely see myself doing”. Desmond however took a different route following the completion of his ‘O’ levels. He signed up for a Diploma In Telecommunications under the Republic Of Singapore Air Force(RSAF) Scholarship. “The RSAF paid for my school fees and I was given a monthly allowance of $900. It was a good deal for a student plus it was a fair bit of money those days!” jokes Desmond as he recollects his decision on accepting the scholarship. Little did he know that this decision would go a long way in helping him achieve his dream of flying. Graduating in 1998, Desmond left TP to start his stint at the RSAF.
The RSAF Days
Having accepted an RSAF scholarship, Desmond would find himself bonded to the organisation for a period of seven years. “As part of the scholarship I had to be bonded and I joined as an aircraft technician” reveals Desmond on the start of his career with the air force. There he specialised in radar communications and learnt about the ins and outs of aircraft maintenance. He also readily shares with us how his diploma helped him out during his stint with the RSAF.“My diploma in TP definitely helped me during my time as an aircraft technician. I learnt about how satellites worked and this prior knowledge made my work with radars easier” shares Desmond. Whilst working with the RSAF, Desmond was given the chance to head to Dallas,Texas for an overseas attachment. As part of his attachment, he was bonded for a further three years, taking his total service in the air force to ten years. “Dallas was a great experience and it’s a place I always look forward to heading to even today” adds Desmond on his time spent there.
The SIA Decision
At the end of his ten year bond, Desmond was faced with a choice to carry on as an aircraft technician or leave and further his career elsewhere. Chancing upon a recruitment advert for pilots by Singapore Airlines, Desmond made up his mind to give his passion for flying another shot. “It was a time when they really needed pilots and I thought I would give it a try given my past experience with aircraft”. He did give it a go and he was shortlisted for an interview. The interview and selection process would later turn out to be extremely gruelling. Candidates were asked to attend a first interview which was fairly relaxed and aimed at finding about their individual backgrounds. The first interview would however serve as a false dawn as the second interview was downright gruelling. “The second interview was a whole day affair. It started at nine in the morning and finished at five in the evening. We started off by filling out what seemed like a million forms! We then attended a panel interview chaired by seven existing SIA captains and a psychologist. What made this different was that we were seated in front of them in nothing but a chair. It was daunting but they wanted to assess our body language and see how we reacted to the questions. Lastly we had a psycho-motor test and a tea party” remarks Desmond as he recounts his SIA interview experience with us.
Getting the job and starting training
After seeing the number of candidates whittled down to a mere twenty from 300, Desmond was offered the job. However with no prior flying experience, he was required to go through an intense training regime which lasted two years. “SIA is the only airline with its own flight training programme called “Ab Initio” where individuals with zero flight experience are trained to be pilots” shares Desmond. His training started off with a six month stint at the Singapore Flying College in Seletar. To make matters worse, he was only allowed to go home on weekends. “It was like national service all over again. We would book out on Friday evening and head back in on Sunday night”. It did help however that Desmond had prior experience in dealing with aircraft. “Those who had engineering degrees or engineering experience managed to grasp the concepts a lot easier as they had background knowledge as to how the plane functioned.” After obtaining his Air Transport Pilots License at the Singapore Flying College, Desmond headed to Australia for further training to attain his commercial pilot license. It was here that he felt isolated from the rest of the world. “We were training in an airport in Western Australia and our living quarters were within the compound of the airport. The trainers strongly discouraged us from “distractions” such as girlfriends and spouses” adds Desmond. Determined to achieve his goals, Desmond persevered and eventually completed his training and became a full-fledged commercial pilot for one of the world’s finest airlines.
Flying and Destinations
Having flown for five years, we ask Desmond what his favourite destinations were and which airports were the most challenging to fly to. San Francisco and Japan are his favourites due to his fondness for the people, food and shopping in these cities. He also has a soft spot for Europe where he loves learning the local culture through interactions with people and the consumption of local cuisine. But were there any cities that proved to be challenging to fly to? “Beijing” was his answer. “When we fly across countries, the air traffic controllers from each city we pass communicate with us and the controllers in the next city we are heading to. In China however, the controllers do not really communicate with each other. And when they do communicate with us, the language barrier is a factor as English is not their first language, hence it can be a little confusing” quips Desmond.
Family – The ties that bind
Desmond is currently married to his childhood sweetheart whom he met during his secondary school days and studied with in Temasek Poly. The proud parents of a 14 month old daughter, Desmond goes all gooey as he talks about her. “I definitely miss her like crazy when I am flying. But thankfully there’s face time. I may be thousands of kilometres away but with face time it’s almost as if she is sitting right in front of me” beams the proud father. He is also quick to share the importance of his wife’s support during his training. “I was already married when I went through my training and despite there being a little tension every now and then from my long absences my wife supported me and my dreams of becoming a pilot” remarks Desmond. Judging by the endearing manner in which he described his family, we can tell they mean the world to him.
As my interview with Desmond drew to a close, we asked him what his advice for students looking to follow in his footsteps to becoming a pilot was. His answer, PASSION. “They need to have a passion for flying. It’s not an easy profession and the training is really intense with numerous exams and deadlines. We even have to take two exams every year to ensure our skills are never compromised. They have to be willing to overlook all this and let their passion take them through” states Desmond. Wise words we say. For it was that very passion, felt for the first time as a young student, that carried Desmond through all the difficulties he faced and saw him become a successful pilot.
Desmond is a true testament to the age old saying that one should always dare to dream. Through hard work and sheer determination his dreams were fulfilled and he is enjoying the fruits of his labour today. He is an alumnus the TP family is truly proud of and an example for many. So peeps don’t ever let anyone tell you your dreams are not worth fighting for because the sky truly is the limit for you!