A Repost from The Heat newsweekly
Too Scared to fly?
Captain Lim Khoy Hing continues to address some people’s fear of flying after his retirement from active duty as a pilot
By Ooi Sue Hwei from the The Heat newsweekly
Next time if there is a delay on your flight, instead of grumbling, you should instead be grateful as the pilot may be dealing with a situation that could save your life. Ex-pilot Captain Lim Khoy Hing vividly recalls an incident in Shanghai, China, when he refused to take off on a Boeing 777 because of an approaching typhoon.
This angered the passengers on his flight who had been stranded in the lounge for several hours. An irate passenger accused him of being cowardly as another pilot, flying the same aircraft from another airline, was able to take off.
The remark even prompted the airport manager to persuade Lim to change his mind, but he was adamant about his decision.
Lim refused to endanger the lives of his passengers as the wind on that day was gusting well above the take-off limit.
Later, he recalled feeling a sense of vindication when he overheard on the radio that a United Airlines Boeing 747 and a Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340 had to abort their departures. In fact, his own flight had to be delayed until the typhoon passed the next day.
The passengers who were initially very angry with him had a change of heart when they met him at the hotel. They had felt the strength of the gale force winds generated by the typhoon on the bus back to the hotel and realised the danger they had avoided.
Serious climatic conditions such as this and mechanical problems are just some reasons why flights are disrupted. Delays could also be caused by a passenger who has checked-in with bags but fails to show up at the gate. This becomes an issue as the flight cannot depart until the bags are offloaded, in case they may endanger the aircraft during flight.
On another occasion, while flying a Boeing 777 from Kuala Lumpur to Perth, Lim aborted the landing due to bad weather and diverted to Adelaide, about two-and-a-half hours or 1000 miles away. When he finally landed at Adelaide, a passenger had commented to his senior flight attendant that it was better to be late than to be ‘dead on time’ after they had experienced the severity of the weather at Perth.
After reading Lim’s account of the incident, a reader wrote in to say: “I will never complain about delays or landings being aborted ever again because now I know that there is always a reason why pilots make such decisions”
Lim explains that pilots or airlines do not deliberately delay flights despite what passengers may think. He said, “Please be patient if the captain announces that your flight has been delayed or cancelled, as getting to your destination is no longer a priority and he is more concerned about your safety. You may arrive late but you may have escaped a potentially dangerous situation.”
These are just two anecdotes summarised from Lim’s book, aptly titled Life in the skies – Everything You Want To Know About Flying, which was launched on Oct 8. This book covers Lim’s 40 years of experience in the aviation industry, and much of the content is drawn from his website www. askcaptainlim.com. Frequent fliers on the AirAsia flights would also recognise him as a regular columnist to the AirAsia Group’s in-flight Travel 3Sixty magazine.
Lim is now a flight simulator instructor on the Airbus A320/A330/A340 with AirAsia X, AirAsia and Asian Aviation Centre of Excellence. He has hung up his uniform in March 2011 when he reached the age of 65, the international legal age limit for commercial pilots.
Prior to that, he has spent five years piloting AirAsia’s Airbus A320, A330 and A340 after his retirement from Malaysia Airlines. During his career as a pilot, he has logged 25,500 flying hours and flown to 80 destinations around the world.
From hobby to book
Lim first started his website (askcaptainlim.com) in 2000 as a hobby to share his knowledge about the Boeing 777. However, he soon realised that many people were afraid to fly and had many questions about their fears, while aspiring pilots wanted to know more about the career path.
“I began to answer their questions and posted the answers on my website. In fact, I have met quite a number of those who sought information from me. Most have progressed to become airline captains and first officers,” he says. On average, he receives three to four questions a day, and has provided answers to more than 1000 questions in his website.
Two years ago, at a reader’s suggestion, these answers became materials for Lim’s book. That was when he approached co-founder and AirAsia Group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes. “He has been reading my articles in the magazine, and thought the book would be a good guide for travellers, thus he was willing to sponsor the cost of producing the book and even penned the foreword,” he says.
The book addresses many of the concerns people have about flying, especially those who have a fear of flying, or pteromerhanophobia.
He puts the fear to rest in his explanation in the book. “Some travellers fear flying because they’re afraid the aircraft may not be able to physically withstand severe turbulence, resulting in engines failing or wings falling apart. This, unfortunately, is almost impossible. Modern planes are designed to be very reliable, practically ‘un-crashable’, as the latest advancements in technology have reduced the odds of major mechanical fault to a very negligible level.
Training pilots in simulators and about being assertive
Not surprisingly though, many people get the impression of flying and pilots from Hollywood movies. One example he cited was Flight, starring Denzel Washington, who plays a pilot who crash-lands his plane with 102 passengers on board.
He also mentioned an air traveller who blogged about her experience on board an Airbus A320 flight. The auxiliary power unit of the aircraft the traveller was on malfunctioned, causing a blackout in the cabin leaving only essential lights on. However, the passenger had mistakenly thought the engines had failed when the engines had not been started yet.
For Lim, this was a case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, as the traveller had incorrectly deduced that the engines were not safe to continue the flight with. He points out that scaremongering does not serve any purpose except to create greater fear among passengers who are already worried about other flight hazards.
He believes there are two main reasons some people have a fear of flying. “One reason is the lack of knowledge, some think that the aircraft will drop out of the sky or the engine will stall when the aircraft encounters turbulence. As such, the more knowledge you have about flying, the less fearful you will become. Secondly, the media tend to write a lot more on air crashes than car crashes.“ he says.
He referred to the analysis made by Arnold Barnett, one of the world’s leading authorities on plane crashes, who incidentally is also afraid of flying. Barnett had analysed the number of stories on the front page of the New York Times for one year, from Oct 1 1988 to Sept 30, 1989, which pertained to human fatality and discovered the reason people perceived the danger of flying to be so great.
Page-one coverage of airplane accidents was 60 times greater than reporting on HIV/AIDS; 1500 times greater than auto hazard; and 6,000 times greater than cancer, the second killer in America after heart disease. His analysis shows just how skewed the media coverage really is on airplane crashes.
Barnett even created a measurement that calculates the chances of people dying on their next flight. In the aviation safety field, this is known as Q; death risk per randomly chosen flight. The answer is one in 90 million. This means a person would fly every day for the next 250,000 years before he would perish in a crash.
Malaysian pilots highly regarded
According to Lim, Malaysian pilots are very much in demand by Middle Eastern airlines like Emirates, Qatar and Etihad, as well as Korean Air and China Airlines as they have a good command of English. It is one of the requirements to fly into American airspaces.
For Lim, a good captain is, amongst others, one who has received extensive training in the simulator, “When I started flying many years ago, there were no flight simulators and simulating engine failure was done on real planes. Thankfully, such practices are now prohibited and are created in flight simulators instead,” he says. A good captain must have certain personality traits like having good communication skills, the ability to make sound decision under pressure, good mental capacity, self-confidence, good aptitude and attitude, is physically fit and a good team player.
One particular type of training teaches a pilot to be assertive. The old belief among co-pilots was that the captain could do no wrong, as such first officers had no choice but to adhere to the chain of command in the past. There is also an East Asian culture of deference to the wisdom of an older person. However, Lim states that nowadays co-pilots are trained to speak up and even wrest control to land the aircraft safely if they have sufficient reason to believe that the captain has made a wrong decision.
In some Asian airlines, the respect accorded to captains remains very strong. For instance, on the bus that transports the crew from the airport to the hotel, a captain sits right at the front of the bus and everyone else sits behind him. Lim recalls a funny incident that involved a fellow Malaysian captain who has just joined the Asian airline.
“The captain wasn’t aware of this practice, so he casually took a seat in the middle of the bus. As a result, his crew tried to squeeze themselves into the remaining seats behind him,” he says.
Although Lim’s life as a commercial pilot has been interesting and fulfilling, for him, nothing compares to the joy of being with his family. “I am now enjoying my retirement from active flying by spending precious time with my five grandchildren. I also keep active in my current job of grooming the next generation of pilots, and I will continue doing it as long as I can,” he says.
Mom’s push helps Lim’s career to take off
Lim Khoy Hing’s career as a pilot took off thanks to the foresight of his mother. “My father wanted me to follow his footsteps and become a carpenter. My wise mother decided otherwise, and enrolled me in an English medium school that opened the door for me to eventually become a pilot,” he says.
Lim’s humble beginnings in Klang are a complete contrast to the success he has achieved today. Born to a poor family, he has seven siblings. His ambition was to be a teacher. Instead, after completing his secondary school education, he took part in a recruitment drive by the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) and went through a long and rigorous selection process.
The RAF Chipmunk (WG 486) that I flew during my training (26.6.1967) is still flying today (Photo - Courtesy of RAF BBMF)
Lim was selected to attend the Royal Military College in Sungai Besi, before being sent to train at the Royal Air Force (RAF) Church Fenton, in England. He received training on the Chipmunk and on the Jet Provost at RAF Acklington. He graduated as a pilot and received his wings in 1968, well before he got his driving licence.
In his career, Lim has flown many types of aircraft. He progressed from flying the Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneers to the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, a four engine turboprop military transport aircraft, during the 12 years he was with the RMAF. He then left to join Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and flew the Fokker 27 right up to the third generation fly-by-wire Boeing 777.
When asked which is his favourite aircraft – the Boeing or the Airbus – he replied candidly that he like both types equally. “When you compared the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A320, A330 and A340, both types have their strengths and weaknesses. The Boeing 777 is solid and can handle turbulence well, whereas the Airbus has good software in terms of automation,“ he says. And like so many retired pilots, Lim harbours dreams of flying the newest aircraft, the Airbus A380 and Dreamliner 787.
For him, the two airports that were the biggest challenge to him were the old Hong Kong Kai Tak International Airport and the Tribhuvan airport in Kathmandu, Nepal. According to him, passengers bound for Kai Tak were treated to alarmingly closed views of nearby skyscrapers and residential apartments as the plane banked to make the final landing. It has since been replaced by Chek Lap Kok, which has been ranked as one of the best airports in the world.
On the other hand, landing an airport at the Tribhuvan airport is like trying to land inside a 'large bowl’ due to its location in the mountains nearly 4,400 feet above the sea level. This airport sits in the middle of a valley with mountainous terrain on all sides.
The third most challenging airport is the Qamdo Banda Airport in Tibet, one that Lim has yet to visit. Located at an elevation of 14,219 feet, it is the world’s highest airport and has the world’s longest commercial runway.
PS. If you like what you read, more stories are found in my book LIFE IN THE SKIES (Preview here) and you can purchase a copy here . To check for any latest updates or postings, you can follow my Twitter at @CaptKHLim