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Beaten But Never Broken

Hi! I’m Terence. At the time of writing, I am currently flying with a local low cost carrier (LCC) as a Junior First Officer on the Airbus 320 fleet.

As far as I can remember, I have always wanted to pursue a career in the aviation industry. The allure of being part of an impossible dream just slightly more than a century ago was far too great to ignore. Growing up in the eastern part of Singapore also meant that having meals at the now-defunct iconic airport Mcdonald’s fast food restaurant and checking out the viewing gallery thereafter was a common weekend routine. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I continued to read up on numerous aircraft publications and dabbled in glider-modelling and aero-modelling.

I was first properly introduced to flying at the age of 17 when I joined the Singapore Youth Flying Club. It was a great learning experience throughout the basic flying phase and just to be at the controls of an aircraft was a dream come true.

Receiving my Basic Flying Course certificate from then SYFC General Manager, Timothy De Souza

After receiving my polytechnic diploma, I signed on with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) in 2008 and underwent training as an Air Operations Systems Specialist (AOSS). While undergoing training in Air Force School, or Air Force Training Command as it is known now, I applied to be a pilot with the RSAF but the outcome was unsuccessful.

In the later years of my air force career, I attended two airline interviews, both of which yielded negative results. Beaten but not broken, I chose to take every failure positively and deeply reflected on how I could have done better. Shortly before my 28th birthday, I started exploring the option of pursuing my license as a private candidate. After some research, I decided to enrol in CTC (now L3 Harris) and they recommended me to Revion Ground School as a preferred provider for ground school training. Interview sessions were then arranged and I became a successful cadet with the Revion/CTC partnership cadet programme, making this the first of future successes.

On the flip side, it was an exceptionally difficult choice to make as my wife had just given birth, coupled with the immense financial commitment required to put myself through the course.

My wife and 6 months old baby on my 28th birthday. Just before commencing ground school.

I recall an instance when a family member asked if it was prudent to take such a big leap into the unknown when I could use the cash at hand to cover a huge portion of my housing loan. As finances were still a major concern then, I opted for my ground school programme to be on a part-time basis, a first in Singapore and only offered by Revion.

It was the perfect arrangement as I could hang on to my full-time job while progressing towards the completion of my 14 ATPL papers. That period of time, however, was exceptionally draining. As that nature of my job entailed working shifts, sometimes overnight, I barely got much sleep, and even less of a fixed sleep cycle (which was good preparation really, for what I was about to be career-wise). Besides that, I also had to further divide my time taking care of my baby boy when I was off work. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf outlet opposite my place also became my favourite exam preparation hangout as refills of brewed coffee was just a dollar regardless of size, and they stayed open till 2 in the morning. Whatever breaks I had at work were spent reading up on notes or doing mock papers.

In May 2017, I resigned from the air force after almost nine years of service to focus on the remaining papers, officially committing myself full-time to my dream of becoming a licensed pilot.

I eventually completed my ground school successfully and in October 2017, I flew to New Zealand to commence the flying phase of training. I remember feeling nervous and excited all at the same time. It was also a really sad moment for me as I had to bid my family goodbye, knowing that I will also be missing out several months of my child’s infanthood. It was certainly a surreal feeling knowing that everything I had dreamed of achieving for a good part of my life was now within reach.

A tearful but necessary goodbye.

I spent a night in Auckland before being picked up by a shuttle service the next afternoon with a bus full of EasyJet cadets who had just arrived for their flight training as well, having completed their ground school in the UK. It was the first taste of student diversity at L3 that I will come to enjoy very much throughout the course.

I had to take a further 2 more examinations, CAANZ PPL Air law and an ICAO-NZ differences paper before being allowed to commence flight training. I was being assigned to a CAT B instructor, Samson Gardner, who would guide me throughout the single-engine phase under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). Every flight had new and exacting lesson requirements that have to be met. Falling short of the lesson objectives would mean a repeat of the lesson would be required and would translate to extra costs. As such, to minimise any further financial strain, I was pressured into making sure that I would pass these flights by means of being over-prepared.

My primary instructor Samson, now a senior first officer with Air New Zealand.

One of the most interesting and slightly unnerving experiences I had was having to make an actual diversion in Mata-Mata airfield after a cold front came in aggressively, lowering the cloud base and visibility quickly and drastically. It was one of my first few area solo flights and I remember questioning my decisions all the way till I had landed safely and shut down the aircraft. I had to make a couple more actual diversions due to weather in my training and my biggest takeaway then was to trust my training and my instincts.

Upon completion of the single-engine VFR phase, I progressed on to the single-engine phase under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). This phase gave me an insight into how most commercial airline operations are carried out, most of which are primarily flown with IFR. There was even more to be learnt and memorised here. After a gruelling week-long ground course, I was still expected to self-study many new procedures and regulations in preparation for my first IFR flight.

My primary instructor during my advanced phase, Kuni, now with Air Ambulance Auckland, who guided me till CPL/MEIR.

IFR eventually got easier as I started to connect the dots between what was on the books, and what it actually felt like flying those books. When I first started, there was a lot of instructor guidance and intervention. Gradually, more responsibilities were passed over to me and instructor inputs were reduced to naught.

Another interesting incident I experienced occurred during my single-engine IFR test sortie. The trusty G1000 equipped Cessna 172 I was flying experienced a complete magnetometer failure. This resulted in a loss of all navigational equipment I had besides the trusty compass, which I then used to navigate the airways in actual IFR conditions in the cloud while coordinating with air traffic control for a lower altitude so I could operate under VFR. All this time, I was under the hood which prevented me from looking out, so spatially, there was no way of telling where I was. That was also the first time I had to file an incident report as my flight had operated in IFR conditions while inadvertently because of the instrument failure, not having the capability to do so.

Operating under the dreaded hood

Looking back, training in New Zealand went by really quickly as the learning curve was steep. A good part of being in L3 was that we trained with cadets from reputable airlines and other private candidates from all over the world. I was able to benefit both culturally and academically as a pilot by learning and interacting with some of them.

Having fun and traditional Vietnamese style hotpot.

Introducing Singapore Curry Chicken to the Cathay Dragonair cadets

Soon enough, I moved along to the multi-engine phase; new engine, new challenges. It was basically a repeat of whatever I had learnt in basic phase but with an additional engine on a higher performance aircraft with much less room for error.

Towards the tail-end of of training, I could recall many nights where I stayed awake wondering if I was ever going to gain employment as a pilot after graduation. The outcome of never making it to an airline was a real possibility.

Preparing for my first ever twin-engine flight.

Having awesome fish and chips at Raglan when the family came to visit.

On the 14th of September 2018, I attained my Commercial Pilot License (CPL) and on the 3rd of October 2018, was endorsed with a Multi-Engine Instrument Rating (MEIR). I could only describe the feeling as surreal and now that I had the proper qualifications, I was officially jobless with my savings running dry. As a fresh graduate out of flight school, I would like to emphasise the importance of being ready for an airline in terms of qualification and currency as opposed to an airline waiting for you. I supposed this is a large factor as to why I considered the costlier option of getting a CAAS CPL/MEIR over a foreign license and then trying to convert it.

An important part of my resume package that I sent out to many prospective employers.

Upon my return to Singapore and I immediately started preparing for any possible interviews whilst sending out a ton of job applications. Being the hopeful fresh candidate, I sent over 50 resumes to airlines all over the world. Realistically, there are only 3 local home-based airlines and there is little to no chance of an airline out of Singapore that would consider your application. I was fortunate enough to be offered interview opportunities with various airlines.

Thankfully, my hard work paid off and I entered into a contract with a local LCC to commence training as a Junior First Officer on the A320 family. Training does not end here. After getting Type Rated on the A320, line training follows. This phase enforced company operational procedures as well as assimilation of actual line operations. That was the first time I had actual revenue paying passengers on board and I remember it was a full flight to Bali and back. I spent five months on line-training and was finally released to line on July 2019. For me, the entire rating process had a steeper learning curve as compared to the CPL/MEIR phase. I remember getting very demoralised whenever I fell below the learning curve until a line instructor told me harshly that if I wanted to continue with this career, a key factor is resilience.

As a pilot, the learning never stops and obstacles present themselves in many different manifestations. Taking for example, at the time of writing, the entire world is currently facing the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The aviation industry is taking a beating and many of the pilots in Singapore are getting huge pay cuts.

Throughout this journey, there were two constants that kept me going. A dream, and the support of family and friends. I could not have been more thankful for all the support that has been provided to me by Youhao, instructors at L3, all the friends I had made as well as the friends rooting from home, as well as my parents and wife. Everyone has been instrumental and it certainly has been, and will continue to be, an adventure that will last a lifetime.

Mandatory shot while visiting airports

If you have stumbled upon this because you are considering to fly as a career, I leave you this; Amelia Earhart once said:

“Flying may not be all plain sailing, but the fun of it is worth the price.”

Fun Fact, she later wrote a memoir titled “The Fun of It”. Thank you for coming this far and I hope to see you in the skies.



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