King’s realm stretches to the skies and back

Weekend Herald - - VIEWPOINTS -

For 21 years, the voice from the cock­pit never gave the show away. The fa­mil­iar an­nounce­ments about the weather on ar­rival or ex­pected land­ing time on cer­tain KLM flights, came from a qual­i­fied but far from or­di­nary pi­lot.

As the Dutch learned this week, the an­nounce­ments con­cealed a royal se­cret — they were made by King Willem- Alexan­der, who for t wo decades had car­ried un­sus­pect­ing pas­sen­gers around Euro­pean skies.

The 50- year- old fa­ther of three talked about his fly­ing du­ties in an in­ter­view to cel­e­brate his wife Queen Max­ima’s birth­day, de­scrib­ing how his “hobby”, as he put it, al­lowed him the free­dom to leave his earth­bound royal du­ties and turn his at­ten­tion to some­thing else.

So far his skills have been de­ployed on Fokker F- 70 air­craft. KLM is re­plac­ing the nar­row bod­ied twin en­gined jets in favour of Boe­ing 737s. The monarch in­tends to re­train for the larger air­craft.

The Dutch king i s not the only royal with a ap­petite for fly­ing. Prince Charles and his two sons are qual­i­fied pilots, as is Jor­dan’s King Ab­dul­lah. The Sul­tan of Brunei is known to fly his own Boe­ing 747, while in New Zealand the clos­est we have seem to have come to roy­alty at the joy­stick is the sight of for­mer All Black skip­per Richie McCaw at the con­trols of a he­li­copter.

King Willem- Alexan­der said he was rarely recog­nised in his pi­lot’s uni­form, though be­fore the 9/ 11 at­tacks, when cock­pit doors were open and fly­ing was more re­laxed, pas­sen­gers would reg­u­larly check the flight deck to see the king at the con­trols. He sat in the co- pi­lot’s seat be­cause he flew as a reg­u­lar guest pi­lot, and wel­comed cus­tomers on board “on be­half of the cap­tain and crew” — rather than re­veal­ing his true iden­tity.

As the co- pi­lot he did not need to di­vulge his name and pas­sen­gers seemed none the wiser. As he pointed out most travellers didn’t lis­ten to the in­ter­com. Now that his story has been told, KLM cus­tomers might start to pay a lit­tle more at­ten­tion.

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