A 30-year-old Nigerian pilot with Emirates Airline, Captain Ambrose Ojobo, spoke with Emma Okonji in Dubai on his experience as a young pilot with a foreign and world-rated airline, and how emerging technology has transformed Emirates flight operations. Excerpts:
Being 30 years of age as a pilot with the Emirates Airline, at what age did you start flying aircrafts and want has been the experience since then?
Currently I am 30 years of age, and I joined Emirates Airline two and a half years ago; I have been flying for the airline on the Boeing 777300 ER and it has been lovely flying for Emirates in Dubai. I started flying aircraft at the age of 17 and I started this in Nigerian College of Aviation Technology in Zaria, Kaduna State. At that time I entered for the standard pilot course 23, and then I did my whole initial training. I have passion for flying from my childhood days. It was more of being interested in automobiles, cars, trains and aeroplanes in general, but as I grew much older, I think fate had its way and I saw myself becoming a pilot. My father studied at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and it was his dream that his son would be a pilot one day and as I was growing up, my father sold the idea of flying to me, when he asked me if I would be interested in flying and I answered in the affirmative. Since I like moving objects from childhood, I was quick to say yes to my father’s question. So I eventually got enrolled into the Standard Pilot Course 23 and did the flight programme. Since then, it has been wonderful and I have no regrets at all.
Aside Emirates, have you worked for other airlines since you became a pilot?
Prior to working for Emirates Airline as a pilot, I have flew other aircrafts and that has built up my whole experience of joining Emirates as well.
So what are the airlines you have worked for before Emirates and what attracted you to Emirates Airline ?
Before joining Emirates Airline in May 2017, I flew in Nigeria and I flew in Oman before joining Emirates, and that built up the whole experience before joining Emirates. Emirates as a whole is a global network and flying to almost all the countries in the world was part of the attraction to me.
Being a Nigerian, how did you secure the Emirates Job as a pilot and how did you learn on the job?
They advertised online and I applied online, and filled the forms online and submitted online. Later I was shortlisted and invited for interview. I first did online interview, passed it and then I was shortlisted again for another interview in Dubai that lasted for three days. And the three days interview also involved going through the simulator assessment, which was full flight simulator assessment. After that, I had to go through a leadership and team-building exercise, where they put me in the room and then monitor me and all of that. Onwards with that, we did the psychometric analyses, and then medical tests as well and then finally meeting with the human resource (HR) team and flight operations and I was successful by the end of three days.
What type of aircraft have you flown since becoming a pilot and what has been the experience?
have flown the Boeing 777300 ER and I have been to all continents as a pilot, but prior to flying Boeing 777300 ER, I have flown the Boeing 737 NG, which was my previous experience before joining Emirates Airlines.
Most airlines have agreement with their pilots on the minimum number of years they could work for them before leaving, owing to the kind of training and investments made on the pilot. Do you have such agreement with Emirates airline?
Basically the terms of contracts and terms and conditions of employment varies from one employer to another. But honestly I can’t go into details with my terms and conditions of employment because it is between the airline and myself. So I’m not permitted to discuss it with the media.
How will you compare the use of technology in driving the operations of Emirates Airline relative to other airlines where you previously worked?
Emirates Airline is a company of its own and its equipment is special and different from other airlines. You have been taken on a tour round the engineering operations of Emirates Airline, where you saw the Boeing 777 and the 8380 aircrafts of Emirates and I was trained on those aircrafts and the technology driving them are sophisticated and ahead of other technology. So relating other airlines’ technology to the current high level of technology embedded in Emirates aircraft, is like dragging me back to old technology days because technology is evolving and Emirates Airline is in line with new technology is driving its operations.
How is Emirates leveraging new technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, and what is your experience with these emerging technologies in flight operations?
One of the major things I have noticed with Emirates Airline is the very huge and tremendous improvement in flight communication. The Emirates network is so big, there is communication network in Australia and in United States of America and these are two ends of the world. And then there’s a network control here in Dubai, being able to communicate with all these aeroplanes and manage this large span of network is what I find fascinating and I think that was not in existence in the previous places I have worked in.
How can you compare the operating environment of Emirates with the other airlines you have work with? What actually is the difference between your previous experience and current experience as a pilot.
Emirates is currently operating over 260 aircrafts and the operating environment is quite different and huge, but the emphasis for me is still on leveraging technology in communicating its entire large networks.
As a Nigerian pilot, what are some of your challenges flying Emirates aircraft and how have you been able to overcome such challenges?
Let’s look at internal training in answering your question. When an airline employs pilots, the first thing is to train them on how to fly their own aircrafts and this is necessary because of the different technologies involved in different airlines. The challenge for me, is how to learn the technology driving the operations of Emirates and as soon that was done, the challenges were automatically put behind me.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said some time ago that by 2025, the global aviation industry would require 17,000 pilots to meet flight needs. Do you think this figure is achievable in the aviation industry?
For me, nothing is impossible to achieve if the will-power and determination is there. I think we should leave that to the management of the global aviation industry and policy makers to handle.
How will you compare the aviation training school in Nigeria with the ones outside Nigeria?
The training experience in the Nigerian Aviation Training School is top notch and that is what took me this far in Emirates. The aviation training school in Nigeria is my foundation and my root. That’s where I started. I didn’t train anywhere before then. I started my basic training there and that has built me up to where I am today.
Having been trained in the Nigerian Aviation Training School, do you think the school has trained enough pilots?
Enough could be relative. I did my training in 2006, and since then I do not know the number of pilots that have graduated from the training school.
Flying is a high risk job when compared to the nature of plane crashes globally and it is also a juicy job when compared to the remuneration. How do you perceive these two ends of the job and what is your family position, being a pilot?
Every job is risky, depending on people’s perspective. We do not fly alone, we fly with several passengers. So if I am taking risk, then it means all other passengers that we fly also take risk. So flying is my job and I have accepted the responsibilities that come with the job. But I am happy doing the job and I do not think of risk of the job, based on the level of training I have received on the job. My family is equally happy with the kind of job I do.
So what was your first flight experience in flying a commercial aircraft?
The experience flying the first commercial aircraft is the same as flying the first aircraft. The only difference between flying the first commercial aircraft and the first aircraft is that with commercial aircraft, I am responsible for over 150 passengers, and the number of passengers keeps increasing because at the moment, Emirates aircraft takes about 445 people as passengers, when fully booked, depending on the capacity of the aircraft.
How do you manage air turbulence as a pilot, and can air turbulence bring down a moving plane?
When we fly, we’re flying in air and the air moves in relative motion. We are moving through air and the air moves as well. So basically, when the wind blows, it blows in different directions and it affects the aircraft, which causes turbulence. As pilots, if it is forecasted, we try to avoid it as much as we can. Sometimes we can’t avoid it, and we have to put the seat belt sign on, and we’ll go through our procedures to make sure the passengers are safe throughout the flight. So as pilots, we are prepared for almost all scenarios, and that has to do with the kind of training we get. We go through a lot of training, using the simulator. Now we are at the stage of evidence based training and we are very well equipped and Emirates does excellent job when it comes to training.
Given your age at 30 as a pilot, many may see you as a role model. How have you been able to influence the young ones who are also interested in becoming a pilot?
Encouraging our younger ones that want to fly is key and I will continue to encourage anyone who is interested in flying aircraft, just like my parents did to me. I will love to be role models to many young Nigerians, who are interested in flying aircrafts. I had a role model when I was a little boy and my role model was my uncle who was a pilot. He was in the Nigerian Air Force, but retired now. He used to come home then with his uniform and I was fascinated by his dressing and comportment.
As a pilot, do you see technology replacing pilots in the near future, where robots will become pilots?
With technology, everything is possible, but that is technology for the future.
Can you share your family background and your upbringing as a child?
I am the seventh child in a family of 14 siblings from two wives who are married to the Ojobo family in Benue State in Nigeria. 13 of us are still surviving, some in Nigeria in different fields of training and some are outside the country.
Growing up as a child was interesting because our dad was committed to making sure we all tread our paths to the fullest. He wanted the best for his children and I still leverage that philosophy.
When I was in secondary school, I had wanted to be a mechanical engineer, but all that changed and I became interested in becoming a pilot. So after my secondary school education, I was enrolled into the aviation training school.
So which country is your favorite destination as a pilot?
The world is my home and I do not have a special favorite designation, because each country I have been to, has its own cultural values that are unique and interesting.