This is Your Captain Speaking

- Text Alzhan Kusainova | Photo personal files of Talgat Akhmetov

The pilot training programme, Аb-initio, was launched by Air Astana in 2009 and seven years later it has proven its worth. Talgat Akhmetov, one of the first to enter the programme, became a captain at the beginning of this year. Now a captain of the Airbus А320, he talks about how he became involved in aviation.

Iwas in the very first group of cadets that Air Astana sent on their new Ab-initio training programme. I passed all my exams first and became the captain of our group. Air Astana developed Ab-initio in 2008 in order to train first officers and later captains so that they could have their own profession­al pilots. The new cadets who pass all their exams and assessment­s become first officers and start flying on scheduled flights. When the new first officers have passed further exams and collected enough experience, they have the opportunit­y to become captains. Today, over 160 pilots have taken part in this programme.

- Where do the pilots study for the programme?

- The countries vary, depending on the choice of Air Astana. I went with the first group of cadets to the United States, which was the best option at the time. Three years later, the cadets were sent to a different school in the USA and now our pilots go to schools in either Spain or Ireland.

- Why did you choose this profession? Was it the romance of it?

- Yes, a thirst for the sky, it is a real passion. As well as that, my parents worked in aviation and that is how they met. My father is a pilot working for Air Astana and my mother was a meteorolog­ist. I loved greeting my father when he came back from work and his stories and smart uniform were an inspiratio­n. I wanted to emulate him, just like all children do who adore their fathers. So I found my vocation in childhood. As time passed my childish dreams transforme­d into clear goals. I passed my academic exams and my medical and received a grant to study at the Academy of Civil Aviation. I was in my third year there when I heard about the Abinitio programme, which had just been launched.

- What is the most difficult part of a pilot ’s job?

- For me, there is nothing, really. Any challenges I had to overcome I looked on as part of the learning process. When you are working hard on getting somewhere — reading, studying, learning to manage your time, becoming the person you need to be — there will always be moments when you have a breakthrou­gh. There are stages of maturation. You learn to be independen­t by living far from home, being responsibl­e for your actions, planning your schedule and finding your own balance between work and home.

- What do you like most about your job?

- I love the sensation of flying. I know this profession inside out and have taken to it like a duck to water. I enjoy interactin­g with the crew and passengers, communicat­ing with them and sharing news. What I like about this profession is that you are always growing and learning because aviation never stands still, technology is upgrading all the time. Every six months we are tested on our English and have to pass a medical examinatio­n, regardless of our experience and length of service. All this keeps you on your toes.

- Do you remember your first flight?

- Of course! It took place in 2009 while I was studying in America. The most exhilarati­ng moment was the take off. You have worked so hard for this moment and when it finally arrives it is amazing. You suddenly realise that you can make any dream come true by taking one step at a time in the right direction and planning your route carefully. My first flight as a captain took place in Astana early in the morning on 27th February. Your first independen­t flight is really liberating. I flew 3,500 hours as a first officer on an Airbus before I became captain.

- What is the difference between a captain and the rest of the crew?

- The captain is the face of the crew and the embodiment of aviation in general. Many things depend on them and everyone looks to the captain in an emergency. They need to have leadership qualities and this role is not given, it is earned. A good leader always provides guidance for the crew. A captain also needs the ability to listen to the crew and give them a chance to show what they are made of.

- What are your best memories from the time you spent at flight school?

- I was 19 when we arrived in Melbourne, Florida to study at the flight school based at the Institute of Technologi­es

(FIT). Everything was nearby: the ocean, Disneyland and Cape Canaveral where the space shuttles are launched from. It was an impressive place with a huge number of aircraft of every type and a vast airfield. It felt great to be part of all of this. I remember very clearly my first solo flights; I had to submit my own flight plans and fly between cities. It was so cool. Light aviation is well developed in the USA where small aircraft are like cars and many middle-class Americans, such as doctors and lawyers, can afford them. People sometimes fly themselves to work in different cities in their own aircraft.

- In which aircraft did you learn to fly?

- Pilots first learn to fly in small aircraft about the size of a car and weighing around 700 kilogramme­s. They carry four people and a small load. Just two wings and an engine. Later, we move on to twin engines, when we get closer to graduation and need to obtain our flying licences. We flew over 200 hours during training, half of which were solo. It was a wonderful experience. The weather in Florida changes fast and there are often thundersto­rms and clouds. Sunny weather is short-lived. In winter, there is morning fog; in summer, thundersto­rms occur every 11 hours and we have to allow for this. Sometimes we flew to neighbouri­ng states, quite a distance away. I particular­ly remember our flights over the archipelag­o of the Florida Keys, not far from Cuba.

- What other interests do you have, outside of flying?

- I am fond of sport. I love snowboardi­ng and sometimes skiing; I play football and volleyball. I play the piano, a little,

A good leader always provides guidance for the crew.

for my own pleasure only. I spend my free time with my family and friends, and I recently got married. I love travelling and discoverin­g places — exploring new countries, cities and cultures is an empowering experience. I don’t want to stop with what I have achieved so far. Aviation is a knowledgei­ntensive and high-tech area, and I will keep striving to acquire new knowledge.

- You have been entrusted with the supervisio­n of the Аbinitio cadets?

- I work alongside the training department to help supervise cadets who have joined the Аb-initio programme and offer them help and support on behalf of Air Astana. It was a good decision to use us to help the young cadets because we have all been down the same road and understand the issues they can encounter while abroad.

- What advice would you give to young people who dream of becoming pilots?

- Don’t be afraid of the hard work and challenges ahead, your great motivation and love of flying will help you to face them. The best way to overcome them is to imagine how you will feel when you have won, moving through to the other side, and they are left behind you. The more complicate­d the journey, the sweeter the victory. And never forget to smile. I always tell cadets to sing the words from the animated film: “Captain, captain, smile, as a smile is a flag of the ship”. You should keep in mind that the captain’s mood is always communicat­ed to the crew. The captain sets the pace.

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