If you have ever wondered what it must be like to be a pilot, then you’re in for a treat today.

Taking the hot seat in our new series #BehindThePaycheque where Christian professionals answer crowdsourced questions about their careers, airline pilots Ashley (53) and Xue Qian (31) recount their journey to their skies and open up on what a career in aviation is like.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.

On becoming a pilot

In Singapore, there are mainly two different routes to pursue a pilot’s career: Commercial and military.

Military pilots get to fly military jets like fighters and transport helicopters while commercial pilots ferry passengers and cargo to different parts of the world, Xue Qian explained.

As someone who was more excited about the flight than the actual holiday itself as a kid, Xue Qian knew that pursuing a career as a commercial pilot would be his dream job.

His dream came true four years ago after having worked in the aviation industry for eight years.

Fun fact: Xue Qian’s passion for the aviation industry started when he received a Boeing 777 plane model on his seventh birthday. He hopes to one day steer the triple seven – he is currently flying a Boeing 737!

Smiling, Xue Qian continued: “I feel a sense of satisfaction each time I come back from a flight because we are making a difference in people’s lives by bringing them from point A to point B.”

“The best part is always really seeing happy faces in the arrival halls as families and friends get reunited.

“Or maybe even a small child waving at the pilots and cabin crew as they walk in the transit hall.!”

Ashley, on the other hand, started by flying fighter planes in the Republic of Singapore Air Force and served as a military pilot for nearly 30 years.

Four years ago, he transited into the commercial side of the aviation industry.

“Right now, I’m still a transport pilot – transporting passengers,” he said with a laugh.

“Thankful that I can still continue flying after I left the Air Force to operate a commercial aircraft!”

Staying grounded 

While some may think that flying a plane is boring due to its routinised nature, Ashley and Xue Qian beg to differ.

“Besides being able to take a break from housework,” joked Ashley with a wink, “I enjoy the fun and excitement of flying because it’s always different.

“It’s the different demands of flying, different views of the skies. It’s very dynamic.”

“Each day is a new challenge which we always look forward to whenever we go to work.”

Xue Qian agreed that no two flights are the same.

Some days are clear days with no other aircraft flying, while it could be raining on another. Air traffic control could also impose speed control and direct planes into a holding pattern.

“Scenarios present themselves and you’ve got to deal with them accordingly,” he shared.

“Each day is a new challenge which we always look forward to whenever we go to work.”

In the last two years however, the aviation industry was rocked by the curveball of COVID-19.

It was a completely unprecedented challenge as everyone in the airline industry was suspended from their duties for an extended period of time.

To keep from losing his touch, Xue Qian would regularly study his flight manuals to keep the pre-flight procedures fresh in his mind.

It was also during this period when he found a pilot fellowship group that would get together twice a week to pray.

“That really did play a major part in keeping me rooted in Christ, especially during the pandemic when there was a lot of uncertainty and stress,” Xue Qian affirmed.

Affirming the importance of a spiritual community to rely on, Ashley added: “I have a life group where fellow Christian brothers and sisters come together to support and encourage each other in our faith and in our work.

“For that, I’m really thankful.”

Ashley was also very grateful that he was in secondary employment during this period, and was able to help out at welfare homes.

“It was an opportunity for me to see how residents in these welfare homes are cared for and rehabilitated,” he shared. “It was also an opportunity for me to relate to the caregivers and the challenges that they face, especially during the pandemic.

“So I was just thankful that during my time when I wasn’t flying, I was gainfully employed.”

God at work

Recounting how they had each experienced God in their job, Xue Qian shared that it wasn’t easy for him to become a pilot.

“About five years ago, I hit a snag in my hunt for a job after I completed my flying license overseas,” he revealed.

“I was really at my lowest point in life, when God spoke to me that He still has my dream in His hands.”

Xue Qian felt God point him to a verse in Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will see it all the way to completion in Christ Jesus”.

“I really sensed that that was the rhema word for me in that season of my life,” said the 31-year-old, who then fully put his trust in God for a job.

It wasn’t easy for Xue Qian to lay down his dreams of flying, but surrendering to God and trusting Him became an opportunity to disciple his cell group boys who were still in secondary school.

There were many ups and downs that Xue Qian went through in that period. But eventually, God provided him with his current job a year later.

Xue Qian believes that the best part in this journey was seeing the growth of his cell group members, six of whom decided to get baptised together.

“I really see that this was nothing but God’s hands at work, moulding me and also discipling my members in the process,” he affirmed.

In the course of his travels, Ashley also recounted experiencing Typhoon Jebi back in 2018, one of the costliest typhoons in Japan’s history for insured losses. He had flown into Osaka and was stationed at a hotel in the Kansai region.

“I remember all the flights were cancelled the next day because of the incoming typhoon and I was just praying to God,” he recounted.

“And I recall God assuring me that He would be my firm foundation and that I would not be moved.”

When the typhoon hit the next day, Ashley looked out from the window of his room at the storm outside.

“I realised that the hotel that I was in was one of the high rise hotels in the area and it wasn’t really affected,” he said. “And I realised that I was actually in the eye of the typhoon.”

As such, Ashley couldn’t help but acknowledge that God was watching over him and the people in the hotel.

Looking at Ashley and Xue Qian, what amazes me most about pilots is how hundreds of lives are in their hands. 

Even so, their stories made me realise that even as pilots take the driver’s seat, they are not – and cannot be – completely in control.

Truly, there is only One who is in control over all situations.