Emirates Airline has enhanced my flying career – Osuhor
Robert Osuhor, is proudly a Nigerian and a captain flying for Emirates Airlines. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, Osuhor shares some of his experiences, having worked in the aviation sector for 34 years.
Can you take us through your journey as a pilot, including your number of years as a pilot?
I started my training to be a pilot in 1988 which means I have been in aviation for 34 years. My path has been different to most of my colleagues but I have been immensely privileged to have had such a varied career. My initial training was as a Helicopter Pilot and I worked in that capacity for nine years until 1997 supporting the Oil industry on the North Sea, before making the transition to Fixed Wing Aircraft.
My first airline job was on a Turbo Prop aircraft (Fokker 50) before moving onto Airbus Aircraft which I have been operating since 2000. I have held ratings and operated the following Airbus Aircraft: A320, A321, A330, A340-300, A340-500 and currently the A380.
I joined Emirates in October 2003 as a First Officer on the Airbus A330/A340 Fleet. I was promoted to Captain four years later in 2007 and then transferred to the A380 as a captain nine years ago. In total I have lived for 19 years in the UAE.
How long did you stay in Nigeria before leaving to practice outside the country?
I grew up in Nigeria and received my secondary education at Kings College Lagos before studying Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Benin. However my family relocated to the United Kingdom in 1986 before I started my pilot training.
Pilots who train outside Nigeria are required by the NCAA to still undergo training in Nigeria, (NCAT) before practicing locally. Is this the same situation practiced outside Nigeria?
Yes. All countries have a Civil Aviation Regulatory body that requires you to be licensed in accordance with that country’s regulations. The requirements vary and are set by each country.
Why did you choose to work with Emirates airline?
Despite having a good career with a well-established airline in the United Kingdom, it was apparent that Emirates would offer a long, varied and interesting career. In addition, my wife and I looked at the quality of life in the UAE and decided that it would be a good fit for us.
After 19 years I still believe we made the right decision and to date my career has exceeded my expectations. I have been able to achieve a lot professionally cumulating in being a Captain on the biggest commercial aircraft in the world (Airbus A380) amongst other things. In addition, my children are receiving world class education and have an excellent quality of life in the safety of the UAE.
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Covid-19 affected airlines globally and some even laid off their staff. What was the situation like for you during the lockdown and how has Emirates managed to bounce back amid the impact of Covid-19?
Covid-19 has been the biggest disaster to befall the aviation Industry in my lifetime and it has been tough on everyone I know. Emirates was not immune to the effects of this global pandemic and had to make some tough decisions. I was fortunate compared to a lot of my colleagues in that I did not get laid off despite a lack of commercial flying for the A380. However, I did not fly for 18 months and had to spend 8 months on unpaid leave.
Over the last 10 months with the easing of the travel restrictions, Emirates has been able to reactivate the A380 rapidly as not only did they keep pilots on contract, albeit on unpaid leave, but also offered training opportunities to stay current with their flying qualifications. This coupled with the recall of laid off pilots has meant Emirates has been in a good position to ramp up the A380 fleet and to capitalise on the rapidly recovering markets.
How many countries have you flown to since you started practicing as a pilot?
I have been very fortunate to have flown all over the world. I have been to every continent and conservatively estimate about 75 different countries.
What is the most difficult situation you found yourself as a pilot and how were you able to navigate such?
As Pilots we train to deal with all sorts of abnormal situations in the simulator and classroom at least twice a year. This means that we are prepared to mitigate difficult situations at all times when airborne. Obviously, in 34 years in Aviation I have had a few technical and weather related issues, but the training we do has always prepared me to deal with them and in most cases our customers don’t even realise that there has been a problem.
Personally my most difficult Aviation situation has been dealing with the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic. I started in aviation at the age of 21 and have been gainfully employed since then. It was challenging mentally, at the age of 53, to suddenly be faced with the possibility of losing my job through no fault of my own.
What do you miss most about Nigeria?
The food of course! You can’t beat a good serving of pounded yam and Egusi Soup. Having said that, we are getting more Nigerian restaurants in Dubai now but there is still not a good Suya spot.
What is your advice for young people aiming to become pilots in the future but do not have the resources to make this happen? Are there scholarship schemes to help support aspiring pilots?
This is a very difficult question to answer and I don’t want to be too negative. This is one of the issues that the Aviation Industry has been notoriously bad at addressing, even before Covid-19, as the cost of pilot training is beyond the majority of peoples financial means. It depends on where you live as there are various piecemeal schemes that are country dependent and therefore it is very difficult to keep track of what is available at any given time.
For example, in the UK you can try and get a career development loan that is backed by the government. In Europe one of the low cost carriers offers a cadet training scheme but it still requires a sizable financial contribution and in the Middle East there is a similar scheme run by another Low Cost Carrier.
What needs to happen is that governments and industry share the costs of pilot training scholarships for aspiring young people. These costs can then be recovered once the candidate starts working. Emirates has this kind of scheme, supported by the government, for the benefit of UAE Nationals.
Having said all of this, my advice is to dream big and do as much research as possible.
Things change very quickly and you want to be in a position to take advantage of any new initiatives that come up right at the beginning. Remember the path may not always be straight forward, but it is possible with hard work and dedication.